Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Two playwrights receive Mellon grants; Minnesota Book Awards’ livestream ceremony

ALSO: Online Art of Possibilities Art Show and Sale; Arena Dances’ creative dinner and (Zoom) show; and more.

African-American playwright Carlyle Brown will be in residence at the Illusion Theater.
African-American playwright Carlyle Brown will be in residence at the Illusion Theater.
Courtesy of the artist

Let’s start with some good news about artists.

Two local playwright-theater pairs have received prestigious National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP) grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grants provide three years of salary, benefits, and a flexible research and development fund for each playwright.

African-American playwright Carlyle Brown will be in residence at the Illusion Theater. Brown has a distinguished career as a playwright, performer and artistic director of Carlyle Brown & Company. His plays have been produced at theaters across the country and internationally, and he has received numerous commissions, fellowships and awards. A Lifetime Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, Brown is a self-described “working artist in his maturity on the cusp of a creative expansion.”

Lao-American poet, author, playwright and installation artist Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay will be in residence with Theater Mu. Aka “the Refugenius,” Vongsay was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1985. She is a Playwright’s Center and Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry and children’s and young adult literature, a Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art and an Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation fellow.  She has written several plays, a picture book, poems, essays, and short stories.

Past recipients of NPRP grants include Aditi Brennan Kapil/Mixed Blood Theater, Kira Obolensky/Ten Thousand Things Theatre, and Christina Ham/Pillsbury House Theatre.

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay
Photo by John Schaidler
Lao-American poet, author, playwright and installation artist Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay will be in residence with Theater Mu.
The Loft announced the recipients of the 2020 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers. Children’s writer Lauren Stringer of Minneapolis, spoken word artist Blythe Baird of Minneapolis, and three poets – Michael Torres of Mankato, Jacob Lindberg of Victoria and Claire Wahmanholm of St. Paul – each received $25,000.

The winners were chosen from among 150 qualified applicants. This year’s judges were Natalie Diaz in poetry, Patricia Smith in spoken word and Uma Krishnaswami in children’s literature. Public events at the Loft are scheduled for Diaz and Smith on Saturday, Sept. 19, and Krishnaswami in October, but whether those will happen is up in the air.

The Jerome Foundation announced 62 recipients of grants totaling more than $4 million through its Arts Organization Grants program. Jerome supports early career artists in Minnesota and New York City. (Founder Jerome Hill, grandson of James J. Hill, was born and grew up in St. Paul.)

Article continues after advertisement

This year’s Minnesota grantee organizations are the following:

For dance: the Cowles Center (as fiscal sponsor of Momentum: New Dance Works)

For literature: Coffee House Press, the Loft, Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop

For media including film/video: St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN)

For music: American Composers Forum, Cedar Cultural Center, Zeitgeist New Music

For theater, performance and spoken word: Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop, Pangea World Theater, Pillsbury House Theatre, the Playwrights’ Center, Open Eye Figure Theatre (as fiscal sponsor of Puppet Lab), Theater Mu

For visual arts: All My Relations Gallery/Native American Community Development Institute, Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Forecast Public Art, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Lanesboro Arts Minnesota, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Springboard for the Arts (as fiscal sponsor for Public Functionary), Textile Center of Minnesota

Jerome Arts Organization Grants were designed to support one or two years of programs and services benefitting early career artists. This year, because of COVID-19, all grantees have the option of using the first year of funding for general operating support, if necessary.

Article continues after advertisement

Catching up with Sheila Smith

Minnesota Citizens for the Arts’ Sheila Smith was in meetings on Monday but sent this email:

“I’m thinking that the most important thing that’s happening this week is that the self-employed are now eligible for unemployment insurance from the State of MN (which as far as I know has never happened before).”

Sheila Smith
Photo by Adam Kissick
Sheila Smith
Artists who need to apply should do so. Springboard for the Arts has prepared a helpful Unemployment Insurance Application FAQ. Make that your first stop.

Later that day, MCA sent out an invitation to two Minnesota Arts Town Halls – one for arts and cultural organizations (Wednesday, April 29, 10:30 a.m.-12 noon) and one for individual artists and creative workers (Thursday, April 30, 4-5:30 p.m.). Each will have a slightly different focus, but both will be opportunities to discuss the next phase of recovery and stability for the Minnesota arts community. Go here to learn more and register. Registration is required.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t done this lately, you might want to visit the coronavirus research pages at MCA and Springboard. People at both organizations are working hard to keep them up to date. If you have the means, consider making a donation to Springboard’s Emergency Relief Fund.

Article continues after advertisement

The picks

You Look Fine by Mary LaLonde
Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
"You Look Fine" by Mary LaLonde
Now at the CourageArt website: 56th Art of Possibilities Art Show and Sale. This annual show is usually held at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, but that building is temporarily closed. So it moved online with images of the art you can enlarge and zoom in on, biographies of the artists, and several YouTube videos about participating artists (search Courage Art). The show is a juried selection of work by 175 local and national artists with disabilities, selected from submissions by artists around the world. The juried categories are Graphic, Oil & Acrylic, Sculpture, Watercolor, Photography and Mixed Media. Prices start at $20. Closes May 21.

Tuesday (April 28) at 7 p.m. at the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library’s website: Minnesota Book Awards Livestream Ceremony. The 32nd annual ceremony of this Minnesota tradition (and a high point of our literary year) was supposed to take place at the Ordway Concert Hall, with live-and-in-person authors accepting their awards before a live-and-in-person audience. Like everything else these days, it will now be a virtual experience, but if anyone can make magic out of that, its host T. Mychael Rambo. Browse the finalists here, then register here to attend. You could win a full set of books by Book Award winners. Want to know more about the finalists before the ceremony begins? Watch a panel discussion or two, or all eight.

Thursday (April 30) at 7 p.m. on Classical MPR: Minnesota Opera’s “La Traviata.” With music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, “La Traviata” is consistently ranked among the top 10 most popular operas in the world. The story of a courtesan who dies for love, it received a sumptuous production at the Ordway last May, closing MN Opera’s 2018-19 season. This rebroadcast will feature soprano Nicole Cabell in the title role, with tenor Jesús León as her naïve young lover, Alfredo. Want some background and context in advance? Here’s a 15-minute podcast with MN Opera teaching artist Pablo Siqueiros.

Thursday: Date Night with Arena Dances. Arena’s 4th Annual Candy Box Dance Festival was scheduled for the Southern Theater on April 27-May 2. But we all know what happened to those plans. Instead, Arena has come up with a clever alternative: dinner and a show for $35. For dinner, Red Wagon Pizza will bring a partly baked 14″ pizza and a full-size Caesar salad to your door with no-contact delivery. For the show, you’ll have access to a private streaming of Arena Dances’ 2018 performance of “Picturing That Day.” Order and you’ll receive an email confirmation, a link and a password to the performance streaming on Zoom – no download or set-up required. Streaming starts at 7 p.m. The show runs about 50 minutes. Go here to check the delivery radius (you’re probably in the area), make your pizza selection and pay through PayPal. Tickets are limited; RSVP by EOD today (Tuesday, April 28). P.S. Candy Box has been rescheduled for spring 2021, and all of this year’s artists have been invited to premiere work next year.

Andrew Erskine Wheeler in “Booth’s Ghost.”
Photo by Richard Andersen
Andrew Erskine Wheeler in “Booth’s Ghost.”
Friday through Sunday (May 1-3) at the Wheeler In the Sky website and Facebook page: “Booth’s Ghost” benefit performance. Filmed at the Ritz Theater during the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Andrew Erskine Wheeler’s award-winning one-man show about Junius, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth is being streamed as a benefit for arts organizations. (You can watch for free; donations are encouraged.) Along with Wheeler’s smash hit performance, this includes something many streamed events these days don’t have: a live audience. It’s great to sit in a full house again, to hear people react to the actor on stage and applaud (enthusiastically) at the end. 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here’s a trailer.