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NHCC launches festival to celebrate artists of color; Schubert Club Mix presents ‘Debussy in Persona’

ALSO: Jazz Fest Live presents singer Sarah M. Greer; next up on Westminster forum is a Jelani Cobb talk on ‘Policing, Protest, and Power’; and more.

William Parker
The Stages of Equity festival will feature New York-based jazz legend William Parker leading the North Hennepin Community College Jazz Ensemble in one of his own compositions.
Photo by Anna Yatskevich

With more than 9,000 students, nearly 60 percent of color, North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park is one of the largest, most diverse community colleges in the state. From tomorrow (Friday, April 30) through Sunday, a new festival called Stages of Equity will feature performances, events and projects, some live, some prerecorded, all led by artists of color.

Tish Jones
Tish Jones
Participants will include students and guest artists from the Twin Cities and beyond. Blackout Improv will perform. Ifrah Mansour contributed a film. Tish Jones, Carnage the Executioner and Felix of Heiruspecs will appear together on a panel called “Ask Me Anything.” New York-based jazz legend William Parker led the NHCC Jazz Ensemble in one of his own compositions. Irma Mayorga directed a play. The festival is free and fully open to the public.

For its inaugural year, Stages of Equity will be virtual only. Plans are already in process for live events in 2022. The college has committed to three years of the festival, for starters.

Stages of Equity was seeded several years ago when a group of students wrote a letter to Kathy Hendrickson, then a theater professor at NHCC, spelling out what they wanted from the theater program. Like plays that weren’t just by white men. And a curriculum that included artists of color, women, and LGBTQI+ people.

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“We’ve heard from our students, over and over and over again, that they don’t see themselves represented in the arts in general. We really took that to heart,” Hendrickson said. Today, “50-70 percent of the source material in our classes is by artists of color.”

Kathy Hendrickson
Kathy Hendrickson
In 2020, Hendrickson took part in a virtual Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) event. “Over the course of the workshop, we pinpointed the arts as one of the primary ways that our campus in particular could address truth, racial healing and transformation,” she said.

Hendrickson is now dean of fine arts, languages and communications at NHCC. Stages of Equity was announced in October 2020 as an initiative, a program, a way for the arts to “help us rest, heal, and continue the important work of dismantling racism.”

Meanwhile, the college hopes to build a brand new Center for Innovation and The Arts (CITA) in partnership with Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Hennepin County, and the Osseo area schools. If all goes well, the groundbreaking will take place in 2025. “Why should we wait for a building to start Stages of Equity?” Hendrickson wondered. Instead, “this is the beginning of something that’s moving deliberately and intentionally.”

Less than three weeks ago, Daunte Wright was killed by police in Brooklyn Center. His death was followed by days of demonstrations, unrest and a heavy police and National Guard presence. Brooklyn Center is just five miles away from NHCC.  We asked Hendrickson what effect these events had on the campus and the festival.

“We canceled evening classes that whole week,” she said. “We asked our faculty to meet our students where they were. A certain number of faculty suspended all work. A percentage of our population is homeless. A percentage of our population is parents who have multiple jobs. A large percentage of our population is African American. Civil unrest and racial unrest is their life.

“We knew there might be some artists who wouldn’t want to perform, and we decided that’s OK. Let it be what it is. This is not life or death, this is art. A few artists said they weren’t going to do the festival. And I said okay, don’t worry. Since then, everyone is back.”

We asked, “If a student can only do three things in the festival, what would you point them to?” Hendrickson said, “I would love them to come to all three ‘Ask Me Anything’ panels, because they can interact with those.”

What about the general public? “The ‘Heal’ mural unveiling,” she said. “It’s a real glimpse into our campus. And Ifrah Mansour’s film, ‘Braiding Black Ice.’ ‘Loss and Found,’ a theatrical piece. And Blackout Improv.” That’s four, but who’s counting?

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The festival will also include poetry, spoken word, music by the NHCC Choir and indie soul artist Ivy Roots, photography, dance, an “Ask Me Anything” panel featuring artists Thomasina Topbear, MYC Dazzle and Sebastian Cintron and another with DejaJoelle, Indigenous Roots co-founder Mary Anne Quiroz and Austene Van, who was recently named producing artistic director at Yellow Tree Theater in neighboring Osseo.

Here’s the complete schedule. Here’s a detailed lineup where you can register for events and add them to your calendar. Some events don’t require registration. If you can’t catch everything, or you miss something you especially want to see, the entire festival, including the panels, will be available for a month to stream on demand.

The picks

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

V Available now on demand: The MacPhail Spotlight Series: Voyage. Mischa Santora directed and acted as videographer for a collaboration among MacPhail Center for Music and the James Sewell Ballet. With Rebecca Merblum on solo cello, three Sewell dancers – Chloe Duryea, Jarold Boltjes and lead choreographer Da’Rius Malone – danced to music by Bach and contemporary Black composer Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes. We saw this last Saturday and it’s lovely. Watch on MacPhail’s website (which also includes the concert program) or YouTube. Free. The previous two events in this year’s Spotlight Series, “International Triptych” and “The Shape of Waves,” are also available.

Sarah M. Greer will stream live from the Dakota, with Brandon Commodore on drums, Ian Young on bass and Steven Hobert on keys.
Courtesy of the artist
Sarah M. Greer will stream live from the Dakota, with Brandon Commodore on drums, Ian Young on bass and Steven Hobert on keys.
V Tonight (Thursday, April 29), 7 p.m.: Twin Cities Jazz Festival: Jazz Fest Live: Sarah M. Greer. A singer and educator with classical training, jazz sensibilities, a beautiful voice, a gift for improvisation, impeccable articulation, and an elastic range (have we left anything out? Yes: a winning stage presence), Greer will stream live from the Dakota, with Brandon Commodore on drums, Ian Young on bass and Steven Hobert on keys. She’ll probably dip into her debut studio album, “What the Music Says Do.” Free. Register here or watch on the Twin Cities Jazz Festival website, Facebook or YouTube.

An image from Salon Seance's "The Crypt Sessions."
Photo by Kevin Condon
An image from Salon Seance's "The Crypt Sessions."
V Tonight (Thursday, April 29), 7:30 p.m.: Schubert Club: Schubert Club Mix: Premiere of Salon Séance’s film “Debussy in Persona.” A collaboration among musicians, historians, playwrights and actors, Salon Séance brings composers back to life through music and theater. In “Debussy in Persona,” four musicians and a medium summon the spirit of the famous French composer. The film reveals his more human side and poses a question everyone is asking these days: Can art be separated from the artist? Free on the Schubert Club’s website. No ticket or registration required. FMI, program and trailer.

V Sunday and Monday, May 2 and 3, 7 p.m. Sunday (world premiere), then on demand: Liquid Music: The Meta Simulacrum Vol. 1. The last Liquid Music event before COVID was a sold-out, euphoric evening at the Parkway Theater with Pekka Kuusisto and Nico Muhly. Formerly sponsored by the SPCO, now an independent LLC owned by its founder, the Great Northern’s Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music remains an incubator. This project was in the works pre-pandemic: a commission by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, co-presented by the orchestra, the Great Northern and the Walker Art Center, involving (like many Liquid Music projects of the past) masses of musicians and constellations of ideas. Read more about it here. If you’re a Liquid Music fan, you might already have a ticket. If you’ve always wished you’d seen a Liquid Music show, here’s your chance. Tickets are pay-as-you-wish; a $20 donation is suggested.

V Tuesday, May 4, 12 noon: Westminster Town Hall Forum: Jelani Cobb: “Policing, Protest, and Power.” First in a series of four weekly talks called “The Arc Toward Justice: Taking Stock One Year After George Floyd’s Death.” Cobb is an award-winning writer for the New Yorker and creator of the PBS “Frontline” documentary “Policing the Police 202.” This series was announced before the killing of Daunte Wright by Brooklyn Center police and the Chauvin verdict. It seems likely that Cobb will have something to say about both. Free. Watch here or on the Forum’s Facebook page.