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Penumbra receives $2.5 million Ford Foundation grant; Schubert Club announces 2020-21 Mix season

ALSO: Club Book presents Dahr Jamail; Uptown Brass at Crooners; Minnesota History Center to reopen; and more.

James Craven and Dame Jasmine Hughes in Dominique Morriseau’s “Sunset Baby,” a Penumbra premiere in 2016.
Photo by Allen Weeks

We already knew that Penumbra Theatre is one of America’s cultural treasures. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from the Ford Foundation that made the national news, so do a lot of other people.

Founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy, based in the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, Penumbra is Minnesota’s only professional Black theater. For years it was home to playwright August Wilson. Despite its reputation for excellence, Penumbra has had its cash flow woes. In 2011, the theater shortened its 2011-12 season by canceling two plays. In fall 2012, it canceled most of its 2012-13 season.

In March of this year, Penumbra closed its doors to the pandemic. In August, it announced that over the next three years, it will become the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing, broadening its focus to encompass the arts, racial equity and wellness.

The unsolicited $2.5 million Ford Foundation grant, to be spread out over four years, is the largest Penumbra has ever received and tops its pre-COVID annual budget of $2.4 million. Part of a $160-million national initiative, it’s the best kind of grant for a nonprofit: general operating support. This means the money doesn’t have to go to specific projects or programs but may be used for day-to-day operations. Penumbra will also receive $100,000 more from Ford this year for strategic planning support.

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Penumbra plans to use the big Ford Foundation grant for program design, business planning and community engagement. Sharing the wealth, it will give $200,000 to Pangea World Theatre, New Native Theatre, Theater Mu and Teatro del Pueblo, its partners in the Twin Cities Theatres of Color Coalition (TCTOCC).

“While we are proud to be recognized for our storied history and bright future, we know that we need other arts organizations of color to thrive as well,” Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy said in a statement. “This is an expression of our solidarity with other communities of color at this critically important time.”

Sarah Bellamy
Photo by Ann Marsden
Sarah Bellamy
The Ford Foundation named 20 organizations America’s Cultural Treasures. Several will be familiar to Twin Cities audiences, having appeared on a Northrop Dance Season, at Orchestra Hall or the Dakota. The other 19 are Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Apollo Theater, Arab American National Museum, Ballet Hispánico, Charles H. Wright Museum, Dance Theater of Harlem, East West Players, El Museo del Barrio, Japanese American National Museum, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Museum of Chinese in America, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, National Museum of Mexican Art, Project Row Houses, Studio Museum in Harlem, Urban Bush Women and Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

This year’s grants are the first part of a two-part commitment to support culturally significant organizations through COVID and beyond. In 2021, a nationwide regional campaign will provide at least $10 million in new funding – all general operating support – to BIPOC arts organizations and artist networks in Minnesota.

The McKnight Foundation will serve as the regional lead in Minnesota, working in partnership with the Ford Foundation, which has seeded the campaign with $35 million and brought in other regional partners, including the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and the MacArthur and Joyce foundations in Chicago.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker told the Washington Post, “Just as inequality is playing out in our society, in the arts it is playing out. The Getty and the National Gallery of Art are in their own bubbles. Yes, they’re concerned about finances, but as one of them said to me, ‘This is terrible, but we can raise the money.’

“When you get to the medium and smaller arts organizations – that don’t have endowments, that don’t have rich boards, that don’t have huge amounts of operating cash flow – those organizations are panicked. If we don’t help them, they will be gone.”

Schubert Club announces 2020-21 Mix season

The Schubert Club is a music presenting organization. It doesn’t have its own orchestra, chorus, or resident artists. With a small but efficient staff led by Artistic and Executive Director Barry Kempton, it typically presents 55-60 concerts each season across five series: the International Artist Series, Music in the Park, Accordo, Courtroom Concerts and Schubert Club Mix. And it’s a survivor. Founded in 1882, the Schubert Club is Minnesota’s earliest arts organization and one of the oldest in the United States.

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Still, it’s amazing that in a global pandemic that has brought many arts organizations to their knees, the Schubert Club is continuing to present mostly live concerts from all of its series, performed in the venues where they were originally scheduled. During these COVID times, all are free, and all are recorded so they’re available to watch online for a month after the performance dates. (Go here to see a list of all upcoming events.)

Prior to last week’s concert by the Pacifica Quartet, who drove 600 miles from Bloomington, Indiana, to perform at the St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ, home of the Schubert Club’s Music in the Park series, Kempton said, “It’s truly sad to face the fact that though the quartet, a recording crew and I are here at the venue, you, our beloved audience, cannot be with us here today. We’re grateful, of course, to have the opportunity to stream this concert to your home, but we all know it’s not the same as hearing music live.”

It’s not the same, but it’s a thousand times better than no music at all. Here’s Pacifica, if you missed it.

In August, the Schubert Club announced a revised fall season of Music in the Park, International Artist Series and Accordo concerts. Artists (in addition to Pacifica) include tenor Lawrence Brownlee (Oct. 4 and 6), pianist Gilbert Kalish (Oct. 11, replacing Imani Winds, which had to cancel), internationally known violinist Midori (Nov. 10) and members of Accordo, a string ensemble comprised of present and former principal string players of the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO (Oct. 12).

Earlier this month, we learned the lineup for the Fall 2020 Courtroom Concerts, the popular noontime series performed in Landmark Center’s Courtroom 317. Some concerts will be new video presentations; some will be archival programs, presented as audios. They will include the Maithree Ensemble’s “Music of Friendship” (Oct. 15), Lux String Quartet (Oct. 29), Flying Forms (Nov. 12), Horacio Contreras, cello, and Ana María Otamendi, piano (Nov. 19), “To Joy” by David Evan Thomas (Dec. 3), and Songs for the Season (Dec. 7). Composer Abbie Betinis will be the host. The 2021 Courtroom Concerts will be announced in November.

Flying Forms, left to right: Tami Morse, harpsichord; Marc Levine, Baroque violin; Tulio Rondon, viola.
Photo by Amy Jeanchaiyphum
Flying Forms, left to right: Tami Morse, harpsichord; Marc Levine, Baroque violin; Tulio Rondon, viola.
And last Friday, the Schubert Club announced its 2020-21 Schubert Club Mix season. Though we should know better, this one came as kind of a surprise. Launched in January 2014, Mix is the Schubert Club’s newest series and its most experimental. Designed to “take the formality out of classical music,” Mix has hopped from style to style, venue to venue, its artists eclectic and intriguing.

The 2020-21 season will begin in February 2021, and at this point, Kempton is hoping these can be live and in-person concerts, not virtual. Here’s the lineup:

Feb. 17, 2021, at Summit Brewery Ratskeller: ZOFO. Piano four hands by Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi. Maybe they’ll play Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

Spektral Quartet will perform “Enigma,” a work for string quartet and video art.
Photo by Jocelyn Chuang
Spektral Quartet will perform “Enigma,” a work for string quartet and video art.
March 12 and 13 at the Bell Museum planetarium: Spektral Quartet. The three-time Grammy nominees will perform “Enigma,” a work for string quartet and video art by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Sigurdur Gudjonsson. Co-presented by the Walker and the Bell.

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March 6 at Aria: Gao Hong, pipa, and Issam Rafea, oud. COVID stole their April 24 CD release at the Cedar. Their partnership is magical and everything they play is improvised on the spot, blending Chinese and Arabic sounds and techniques.

March 29 at the St. Paul Conservatory of Music: David Finckel, cello, and Wu Han, piano. This performance begins a featured artist residency with Finckel and Wu that has been rescheduled from 2020.

April 29 and 30 at the Walker’s McGuire Theater: Brooklyn Rider with Kayhan Kalhor, kamancheh. What’s a kamancheh, you might wonder? So did we. It’s a Persian bowed string instrument, ancient and elegant. Brooklyn Rider, the string quartet, will also be joined by percussionist Mathias Kunzli. Co-presented by the Walker Art Center.

May 20 on the Andy Boss Stage at Park Square Theater: An Evening with Composer-in-Residence deVon Russell Gray and Friends. Let’s just say that dVRG has a lot of interesting and talented friends.

Go here to see a list of all upcoming Schubert Club events. Tickets to the Mix concerts will go on sale in late 2020.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

L Tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 29) at Crooners: Uptown Brass. All the members of this nattily named quintet are from the Minnesota Orchestra’s brass section. So it’s no stretch to say they are some of the best brass players in the Twin Cities. See and hear them in Crooners’ Mainstage Tent – which, as of tonight, will be heated and newly configured with wind walls, to keep you cozy – or from your car. FMI and tickets ($25 per person).

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V Tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 29): UMN English presents Curtis Sittenfeld. What if Hillary Rodham Clinton had never married William Jefferson Clinton? That’s the hook of Sittenfeld’s new novel. BTW, if you’re bristling because a man wrote this book, Sittenfeld is a woman. She’ll be in conversation with Julie Schumacher. 7 p.m. Free. Register here.

V Tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 30): Club Book presents Dahr Jamail. His latest, “The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption,” is a work of science and mourning for the fragile, vulnerable planet we’re about to lose. Maggie Lorenz will moderate. 7 p.m. Free. Go here to join when the time comes.

The Minnesota History Center reopens on October 1.
Photo by Rebecca Studios
The Minnesota History Center reopens on October 1.
L Thursday (Oct. 1): The Minnesota History Center reopens. Catch the exhibits you meant to see before COVID came to town, like “First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom” and “Prince: Before the Rain,” both extended until Jan. 3. Hours will be Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays 11-4. Capacity is limited and advance tickets are recommended ($8-12, members free). Wear a mask.

V Thursday (Oct. 1): Trademark Theater’s “Understood: The Audioplay” starts streaming. A reimagining of Trademark’s 2018 world premiere about two people on the opposite sides of everything who figure out how to cross the cultural divide. Written by Tyler Mills, directed by Tyler Michaels King, featuring Sasha Andreev and Adelin Phelps. Tickets are pay-what-you-choose ($0-50). Ends Nov. 4.

V Sunday (Oct. 4) at MSP Film Society: “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story.” Alto saxophonist Morgan played with Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Ornette Coleman, developed a heroin habit and spent 30 years in and out of prison. Born in Minneapolis, he returned here for the last two years of his life. Some of us saw him play at the Dakota and the Artists’ Quarter. Part of MSP Film’s “We the People: Required Watching,” this screening will be free, followed Monday at 7 p.m. by a virtual Q&A with MSP Film’s Craig Rice and filmmaker N.C. Heikin. Reserve your ticket and register for the Zoom conversation here.