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‘One Book One Minnesota’ explores racism close to home; History Theatre Zooms about ‘Glensheen’

ALSO: “A Breath for George” at ASI; “Minnesota’s Black Community in the 21st Century” live virtual book launch; and more.

For the first “One Book | One Minnesota,” a statewide book club launched in April by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, the goal was to bring Minnesotans closer together during an isolating pandemic. We would all read the same book, Minnesota author Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie,” then come together virtually to reflect and discuss. The book was made available free online for eight weeks. Local libraries offered information and virtual discussions.

“One Book” is back, but the focus is different.

“When we started this program,” said Friends President Beth Burns in a statement, “our desire was to bring Minnesotans together to share in the collective joy of reading.”

On May 25, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. “The world erupted in grief, protest, and perhaps finally a reckoning that we must confront institutional and systemic racism – and that means all of us,” Burns said. “We are fortunate that Minnesota is home to many talented writers whose work can inform and guide us on this journey.”

Sun Yung Shin
Photo by Dan Markworth
Sun Yung Shin
Several of these writers contributed essays to “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota,” a book edited by Sun Yung Shin and published in 2016 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Among them are Shannon Gibney, Carolyn Holbrook, Bao Phi, David Mura, Heid E. Erdrich, Venessa Fuentes, Andrea Jenkins and Kao Kalia Yang.

You can read the book (and a reading guide) for free on Ebooks Minnesota until Aug. 23. Or you can buy a copy from the Minnesota Historical Society Press or your favorite bookstore. Or you can check it out from a library.

“A Good Time for the Truth” is not your usual summer reading. But this is not your usual summer. And while there are many books about race, racism and anti-racism available now, and many thoughtfully compiled lists of books worth seeking out, this book is about our state, about us, by us.

A statewide author event will take place in August. Details to come. FMI.

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Catching up with Sheila Smith

We’ve missed talking with Sheila Smith, head of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, who was on vacation. We’re seeing more vacations in the past few weeks.

“After the trauma of the initial three months of shutdown, and the trauma of George Floyd and the need for protests, folks are pretty worn out and needing a break,” Smith said by phone on Monday. “It feels like things are going to move more slowly than they did during those first three months. At first, we were all in crisis mode, and the crisis isn’t lessening – it’s rising – but people are exhausted. This is wearing on people so much. The question is, what do we do next?”

Smith is keeping an eye on the Legislature. “The legislative session starts today [Monday]. Right now, the arts are not at issue. We’re still waiting for the official budget forecast to come out so we can see exactly by how much the state budget has shrunk. Then we’ll be watching for when the Legislature might convene later on, maybe in the fall, to discuss budget cuts in reaction to the state’s changing economic outlook.”

She’s also watching the reopenings that are taking place, tentatively at first, with more happening every week. “We’re seeing the museums take the first steps, within the state’s restriction of 25 percent capacity, and all the things they had to think through. Now the theater world is trying to figure out what can and can’t be done.

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“There are a lot of models [being tried] around the country. Last night, I watched a live play online. I was curious about how they were going to do it. The staging was interesting, but it didn’t feel the same as live theater. Around the world, we’re seeing different kinds of outdoor spectacles as people try to figure out how to do them. There’s drive-in theater. And drive-in music concerts, including those we’re hearing about locally. There’s something called the ‘Irish Model.’ Minnesota Theatre Alliance is hosting a webinar about that next week.

Sheila Smith
Photo by Adam Kissick
Sheila Smith
“The arts community is not monolithic. There are many different kinds of art forms and organizations, and the reopening protocols are going to differ. Museums are about controlling large spaces through which people move, which is a very different thought process than how do we keep people safe, seated and watching theater together. Then there are the choirs. Really intense research is going on about how do you sing safely? Right now, it seems that outside, with good social distancing, it’s possible.

“Everybody wants an easy answer, but it’s complicated because there are so many different kinds and sizes of organizations. What is the capacity to do things outside? What happens to buildings when they can’t be used for a while? There are huge carrying costs for arts buildings all over the state. You still have to heat and cool them, pay the light bill, pay for security and cleaning. There are a lot of costs involved in just maintaining the buildings while we wait for reopening. That’s probably deepening people’s budget crisis. I’m sure people are having deep conversations about the carrying costs of facilities right now.”

Take that vacation, if you can.

The picks

Wendy Lehr as attorney Ron Beshmesher in a screen shot of “Glensheen.”
Wendy Lehr as attorney Ron Beshmesher in a screen shot of “Glensheen.”
Now on the History Theatre’s Facebook page: “Spilling the HT, Episode 5: Glensheen.” If you were looking forward to seeing the History Theatre’s smash hit musical “Glensheen” for the first time – or the second, or more – you’re not alone. Friday, July 10, would have been opening night for the seventh run of this improbable success, a wildly entertaining musical based on a double murder in a Duluth mansion. Artistic Director Ron Peluso and Artistic Associate Laurie Flanigan Hegge tell the story of how “Glensheen” came to be, Zoom with the cast and share memories of bringing to life Jeffrey Hatcher and Chan Poling’s brilliant co-creation. You might also check out Episode 2 in this series, a conversation with Harrison David Rivers, who’s writing a play for the theater about Gordon Parks, and Robin Hickman, Parks’ grand niece.

Composer and musician deVon Russell Gray, aka dVRG, is a questing, seeking, curious, intense artist on our local scene.
Courtesy of the artist
Composer and musician deVon Russell Gray, aka dVRG, is a questing, seeking, curious, intense artist on our local scene.
Now on I Care If You Listen: “ListN Up: deVon Russell Gray.” I Care If You Listen is a contemporary classical music/new music website; ListN Up is their weekly series of artist-curated playlists. Composer and musician deVon Russell Gray, aka dVRG, is a questing, seeking, curious, intense artist on our local scene, a McKnight Fellow, Jerome Artist, Heiruspecs member, Cedar Commissions artist and current Schubert Club composer-in-residence who was robbed of at least one performance by COVID. So what is he listening to these days and why? Find out here.

Tonight (Tuesday, July 14) at 8:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the American Swedish Institute: “A Breath for George.” If you haven’t yet seen this – a filmed collection of songs, interviews and poems created by New Dawn Theatre, under the direction of Austene Van, to honor the life of George Floyd – you can catch it at 26th and Park tonight. Bring a lawn chair, wear a mask and mind your social distancing, please. Free, with free on-street parking.

Wednesday (July 15) at 7 p.m. on the Minnesota Historical Society Facebook page: “Minnesota’s Black Community in the 21st Century” live virtual book launch. In early 2018, the Minnesota Historical Society Press published “The Scott Collection: Minnesota’s Black Community in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.” A reissue in one volume of three previously published books by journalist Walter R. Scott, it profiles and celebrates Black Minnesotans in the pre- and post-Civil Rights era individually, by name, in photographs and brief biographies. “Minnesota’s Black Community in the 21st Century” continues the tradition established by Walter R. Scott. Co-edited by two of his children, Anthony R. Scott and Dr. Chaunda L. Scott, and Charles E. Crutchfield III, M.D., it spotlights contemporary Black Minnesotans in a wide range of fields, from the arts to government, education to religion, business to sports. We turned first to the Arts and Entertainment chapter, which happens to be the first chapter in the book, where the first person profiled is Ta-coumba Aiken. Wednesday’s event will feature Anthony and Chaunda in conversation with Al McFarlane, publisher of Insight News.

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Thursday (July 16) at 7 p.m.: Jazz Fest Live presents “An Evening of Show Tunes.” With Twin Cities theater stars and pros Tyler Michaels King, Sasha Andreev, Aimee K. Bryant, Evan Tyler Wilson and Suzie Juul. Sign up here to save your spot. Free, but donations are appreciated. This performance will be streamed live from Crooners outdoor space, where in-person tickets are still available ($35-40).