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CEO Jamie Grant to leave the Ordway; Mia cuts operating budget and staff

ALSO: Arts supporter Sen. Richard Cohen ends long career at the Legislature; a discussion about what should happen to protest art.

After four years at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, President and CEO Jamie Grant is moving on. The Ordway announced Sunday that Grant has accepted a new position as president and CEO of McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, California, a performing arts center in the Coachella Valley.

Jamie Grant
Jamie Grant
Grant came to the Ordway in 2016 from Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts, bringing more than 30 years of experience in arts management for several performing arts centers. He added sparkle and star power to the Ordway’s offerings.

Had COVID-19 not gotten here first, we would have seen Sting on the Ordway’s big stage in April with his Broadway musical “The Last Ship.” Last December, the Ordway presented the London hit “Six” just before it went to Broadway. Earlier, in August, the Ordway filled with the sounds of furiously tap-dancing feet in the Ordway Original production of “42nd Street,” with TV star Tamara Tunie in a lead role. Grant also expanded the Ordway’s concert programming, bringing international stars to St. Paul.

COVID brought hard times to arts organizations everywhere, closing doors and canceling performances of all kinds. In early April, 90 percent of the Ordway’s staff – more than 400 people – were laid off. Without musicals or concerts, there’s no ticket revenue. The Ordway’s annual Spring Fête, its biggest fundraiser, had been rescheduled as an online celebration that would begin on May 31 and continue through June 7. With the death of George Floyd, it was moved to this Thursday, June 25. FMI.

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The Ordway Original production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is still on the calendar for December 1-27.

In a statement, Ordway Board Chair Bill Parker said about Grant, “His work to … increase the scope and scale of Ordway programming will have lasting benefit to this organization and the city of St. Paul.”

Grant’s last day will be Aug. 31. Christine Sagstetter, the Ordway’s executive vice president and CFO, will serve as interim president during a national search for Grant’s successor.

Mia cuts FY21 operating budget, reduces staff

As it prepares to reopen to the public in mid-July, Minneapolis Institute of Art has slashed its budget and trimmed its staff.

Mia will cut $4 million from its FY21 operating budget of $30 million. Effective June 20, 17 employees took a voluntary separation package. An additional 22 staff were laid off on Monday.

Like most of Minnesota, Mia closed to the public on March 13 as COVID-19 rolled in. It received a PPP loan as part of the CARES Act and continued to pay all staff through June 19.

Anticipating reduced earned and contributed revenue over the next 12 months, it made a museum-wide effort to cut costs. Pay for all nonunion staff was frozen. Salaries for the leadership team were cut by 15 percent. Programs, tours and events were recalibrated or suspended. When Mia reopens, it will be for fewer hours, down 43 percent.

“Few decisions are harder than one that involves reducing our dedicated staff,” Mia President Katie Luber said in a statement. “We pursued numerous options to save as many staff as possible. … We have also carefully evaluated whether there are untapped sources of revenue or new fundraising opportunities that could help alleviate the need for further cuts, but this has not been possible.”

This is Luber’s first year as Mia’s president. She arrived in January and had been in her office less than two months when Gov. Tim Walz issued his first stay-at-home order. Luber succeeded Kaywin Feldman, who now heads the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

George Floyd protest art discussion was a start

On Thursday, June 18, nearly 500 people tuned into a Zoom conversation called “Black Art in the Era of Protest.” Convened by public art consultant and former TV news anchor Robyne Robinson, it featured a cross-generational panel of Black artists and educators who talked of many things, including what should happen to the street art, much of it on plywood panels, being created in response to the death of George Floyd.

The panelists were Ta-Coumba Aiken, Seitu Jones, Todd Lawrence and Chioma Uwagwu of the Urban Art Mapping Project at the University of St. Thomas, Precious Wallace of King P. Studio, Reggie LeFlore, Roger Cummings of Juxtaposition Arts, Alex Smith and Cameron Downey. Gabby Coll of Juxta took questions from the audience.

protest art discussion
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Top row, left to right: Robyne Robinson, Reggie LeFlore, Gabby Coll, Todd Lawrence. Second row: Roger Cummings, Alex Smith, Chioma Uwagwu, Seitu Jones. Third row: Ta-Coumba Aiken, Precious Wallace, Cameron Downey.
We asked Robinson to reflect on what she saw and heard.

“The turnout speaks to the fact that many people see the importance of these works,” she said. “They do need to be preserved. They do need to tell what happened in our community. There are a lot of important voices and ideas about what should happen.

“Many people want [the panels] to stay in the community. They want to create a center in the name of George Floyd. There are going to be many museums that want to collect this artwork. The Smithsonian has been inquiring. They took part in listening to the dialogue.

“People in Greater Minnesota want to bring the panels there for further discussion, for people who don’t see police brutality in the same way as people of color. Many people would like to see panels from the Twin Cities meet up with panels from Los Angeles and panels from New York for something similar to the AIDs quilt, traveling nationally.

“People have emotional equity in this art. They are starting to call this artwork their own, because they can identify in their own lives with what happened to George Floyd. They have a lot of passion about who’s collecting it. They want to know their intentions. A lot of these works were born from pain, frustration, anger, fear, hurt and a desire for peace.”

Part of the conversation focused on the now-iconic George Floyd mural on a wall of Cup Foods at 38th and Chicago. Many people (this writer included) did not know until recently that the mural was created by a team of white and Latinx artists led by Greta McLain, owner and artistic director of GoodSpace Murals. Earlier this month, McLain apologized on Facebook for centering herself in “a space of mourning that wasn’t mine to be at the center of.”

“Everybody knows that Greta is a good-hearted person,” Robinson said. “She does things from her heart. But there are people who say she should have talked to people in the community first. Those things needed to be discussed.

“This initially was to be a cathartic conversation, an open conversation with some of the most brilliant Black artists in our community. What it did was open up space to more critical dialogue that will lead to action. I hope people will take away many of the ideas, and I hope city leaders will listen in, too, as well as major institutions. Art can heal, and if we can have dialogue about the next steps, it will do more to heal the community at large, not just the arts community.”

The discussion has been posted here. Robinson said that more will follow – with community members, with people from outstate Minnesota, with architects and developers. FMI, visit Five x Five Public Art Consultants on Facebook and Instagram.

Catching up with Sheila Smith

Sheila Smith, head of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, is organizing educational opportunities for the field. “One will be with Nina Ozlu [Tunceli] of Americans for the Arts, to help people learn about all the federal legislation to help nonprofits and small businesses. We’ll get some time with her, which will be helpful to people.”

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Smith is also looking forward to taking time off around the Fourth of July holiday. (Which is shockingly close – is June almost over?) “After three months of constant crisis, we’re all starting to take a break,” she said. “You can’t sustain this level of activity.”

Sen. Richard Cohen
Sen. Richard Cohen
When Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, gave his retirement speech at the Capitol on Friday afternoon, Smith was watching online. “He’s justifiably proud of his career supporting the arts in Minnesota,” she said. “He talked about the need for bipartisan cooperation and called out some of his Republican colleagues, as well as his Democrat colleagues, for their great work.”

Cohen announced last November that after 33 years in the Senate, he would not seek re-election. “Nobody has ever been as important as Dick Cohen in supporting the arts and culture in Minnesota,” Smith said. “He’s the reason the arts were in the Legacy Amendment, with the collaboration of lots of other legislators. He has been an extraordinary leader.”

Who will step into Cohen’s role? “We have a number of bipartisan supporters of the arts and culture in theLegislature, including the two chairs of the Legacy Committee, Sen. Carrie Ruud, a Republican from northern Minnesota, and Rep. Leon Lillie, a Democrat from Little Canada.

“Both are adamant supporters of arts and culture, and the importance of the arts to Minnesota’s quality of life. They have worked cooperatively with Sen. Cohen on his work to support the arts. They are extremely capable and enthusiastic about carrying it on.”