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Bonding bill’s long journey ended well for the arts

ALSO: Virtual Club Book features David Treuer: “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee”; Pen Pals with Colum McCann; musical instruments and aerosols research; and more.

Victoria Theater Arts Center in St. Paul was given $2.4 million in the bonding bill passed last week.
Victoria Theater Arts Center in St. Paul was given $2.4 million in the bonding bill passed last week.
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Two items of note for the arts made the news late last week and over the weekend.

First, the long, strange trip of the nearly $2-billion 2020 Minnesota bonding bill ended well for several arts and culture organizations. Among those that will receive funding for construction projects are the Becker County Museum in Detroit Lakes ($1.85 million), the Chatfield Center for the Arts ($8.7 million), Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth ($204,000), the Hull Rust Mine View in Hibbing (a view of the “Grand Canyon of the North,” $1.3 million), and an outdoor performance venue on the riverfront in north Minneapolis ($12.5 million).

Others include German Park Amphitheater in New Ulm ($300,000), the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center in Duluth $1.5 million), the Humanities Center in St. Paul ($750,000), the Playwrights’ Center in St. Paul ($850,000), the Victoria Theater Arts Center in St. Paul ($2.4 million) and the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul ($2 million), the American Indian Center in Minneapolis ($2.6 million) and Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis ($1 million).

Wait – isn’t the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis? Not for much longer. With help from the bonding bill, it plans to open a new artist center at 710 Raymond Ave. in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone in 2021-22, its 50th anniversary season. The new building will more than double the nonprofit’s square footage. Producing artistic director Jeremy Cohen said in a statement, “The end result: access – access to space for the public; access to education for students; access to paid opportunities for artists; and access to new writers for theaters around the world.”

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Second, the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and the Minnesota Orchestra jointly released a research brief with this encouraging headline: “Musical instruments don’t spread aerosols as far as you might think.” This could signal some much-needed good news for rehearsals and performances by orchestras worldwide.

Musicians who play wind instruments expel air that contains aerosol particles and droplets that can spread the coronavirus. But CSE researchers found they typically don’t travel farther than 1 foot. Physical distancing, masks for instruments called “bell barriers” (which the U of M is already trying with its marching band) and portable air filters can help reduce the risk.

Researchers from the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering test trombonist Doug Wright's aerosol spread.
Photo by Travis Anderson
Researchers from the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering test trombonist Doug Wright's aerosol spread.
Led by Department of Mechanical Engineering associate professor Jiarong Hong, researchers found that the trumpet was the highest-risk instrument. (We had read earlier that the flute posed the highest risk.) The instruments in order, from low risk to intermediate to high: tuba (low); bassoon, piccolo, flute, bass clarinet, French horn (aerosol concentrations in the range of normal breathing); clarinet (concentrations in the range of speaking); bass trombone and oboe (just above the range of speaking); trumpet (significantly higher than breathing or speaking).

Using information from this research, the orchestra has made a plan to gradually increase the number of musicians on stage. At the moment, its livestreamed performances feature small groups of up to 25 musicians. Pre-pandemic numbers were closer to 90. We won’t see that many musicians all at once anytime soon, but we can expect to see more – spaced out at distances of 6-9 feet onstage, with a large extension added to the lip of the stage, the use of bell barriers and air filters, and all string and percussion players masked.

The research results will be shared with school groups and other ensembles. Here’s the report published in the Journal of Aerosol Science.

The picks

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

V All week (Monday, Oct. 19-Sunday, Oct. 25) online: The Playwright’s Center: 37th Annual Playlabs Festival. New works in development by four playwrights, free (as always) and available (for the first time) to audiences around the world. In Daaimah Mubashshir’s “Room Enough (For Us All),” a contemporary African American Muslim family deals with queerness. Harrison David Rivers’ “we are continuous” is a tender autobiographical play about a mother and her HIV-positive son. Jessica Huang’s “Mother of Exiles” is a multigenerational tale of sacrifice, love and survival that spans 150 years and reaches into the future. Erin Courtney’s “Begin, Begin, Begin Again” re-imagines “The Oresteia” as a way to view our current justice system and invite change. All will be presented twice. All are free. FMI including dates, times and sign-ups at the links.

David Treuer
Photo by Nisreen Breek
David Treuer
V Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 20) on Zoom: Club Book: David Treuer: “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee.” Treuer is a member of the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe (and brother to Anton Treuer, another important Native American writer). A New York Times bestseller, Minnesota Book Award winner and 2019 National Book Award finalist, “Heartbeat” insists that “our cultures are not dead and our civilizations have not been destroyed.” Hosted by Dakota County Library. 7 p.m. Free. FMI and link to join the event. If you can’t catch it live, you can watch it later on demand.

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V Wednesday (Oct. 21) on Zoom: The Museum of Russian Art presents “Journeys Through the Russian Empire: A Virtual Discussion with Author William Craft Brumfield.” For an hour, set aside thoughts of trolls and bots and cyberattacks. Juxtaposing his own photographs of Russia from the past four decades with those of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, who documented the waning years of the Tsarist empire between 1903 and 1916 under the patronage of Nicholas II, this is an utterly unique look at the richness of Russian culture – and the effects of time. The book came out from Duke University Press in July. Brumfield will be in conversation with TMORA’s chief curator, Masha Zavialova. 7 p.m. Free. Register here.

Colum McCann
Colum McCann
V Thursday (Oct. 22) on Zoom: Pen Pals with Colum McCann. Pen Pals events benefit Hennepin County Library. They’re more talks/lectures/performances than readings, and those we’ve seen over the years have been entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable. Usually scheduled for the Hopkins Center for the Arts, they have been moved online due to the pandemic. On Thursday, National Book Award winner McCann (“Let the Great World Spin,” “Apeirogon”) will discuss his life and writing, 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($45; use code FALLSALE for $10 off).

V Friday (Oct. 23) on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website: “Rhythm and Grace.” Second in a series of five Minnesota Orchestra livestreams performed onstage at Orchestra Hall without an in-person audience, hosted by Sarah Hicks, broadcast by Classical MPR and TPT. The program will include Jennifer Higdon’s “Amazing Grace” for String Quartet, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, Valerie Coleman’s “Trigane” for Wind Quintet and Paquito D’Rivera’s Four Pieces for Brass Quintet. 8 p.m. Past performances remain available on demand for free, including the Oct. 2 season premiere.