Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


New work by Native artist to rise where ‘Scaffold’ stood

ALSO: Local theaters share in $1.5 million Mellon grant; “The Music Man” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres; and more.

A rendering of “Okciyapi (Help Each Other)” by Angela Two Stars.
A rendering of “Okciyapi (Help Each Other)” by Angela Two Stars.
Courtesy of Urban Ecosystems

For a time in 2017, the northwest corner of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was the scene of protest and controversy. Then it stood empty and waiting. In October, it will become a place of respite, gathering, learning and healing.

A new work by Dakota artist Angela Two Stars, “Okciyapi (Help Each Other),” will invite people to sit, stroll, meet and engage with the Dakota language. It will be sited where artist Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” once stood.

A free public park, the Sculpture Garden is a partnership between the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and the Walker Art Center. The Walker curates and cares for the art. The appearance of “Scaffold” in May 2017 led to a public outcry, widespread condemnation, national headlines, a delay in reopening the Sculpture Garden after a multimillion-dollar renovation, the resignation later that year of the Walker’s executive director, Olga Viso, and, arguably, the practice today of introducing arts events with land acknowledgments.

Article continues after advertisement

Durant’s sculpture referenced several gallows used in U.S. government executions, including one in Mankato, Minnesota, where the largest mass execution in our nation’s history took place: the hangings of 38 Dakota men on Dec. 26, 1862. To Native people, its presence was intolerable and traumatic. To many others, it was tone-deaf and offensive. The sculpture was dismantled and removed, and its place in the Sculpture Garden was grassed over.

In January 2019, the Walker launched an Indigenous Public Art Commission with a call to artists, seeking proposals for a new public artwork for the Sculpture Garden or elsewhere on the Walker campus. More than 50 national and international submissions were reviewed by the Walker curatorial staff and an Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee, a group of Native curators, knowledge keepers, artists and arts professionals. Two Stars’ proposal was chosen. The plan called for installation in the fall of 2020, but the pandemic intervened.

Angela Two Stars
Walker Art Center
Angela Two Stars
Two Stars is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and director of All My Relations Gallery in Minneapolis. Her work as a visual artist has been shown at the Sioux Art Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Watermark Art Center in Bemidji, and All My Relations, among other spaces. In 2019, Two Stars collaborated with Mona Smith and Sandy Spieler on the public installation of Dakota artwork along the southeast shore of Bde Maka Ska. This will be her first work at the Walker.

“Okciyapi (Help Each Other)” will be a sculptural form of pre-cast engraved concrete, enameled metal panels, script and audio Dakota language and medicinal plants native to Minnesota. A water vessel in the center will remind visitors that the name “Minnesota” comes from the Dakota phrase “Mni Sota Makoce,” or “the land where the water reflects the clouds.” As you move through the piece, you’ll be able to hear stories told by Dakota speakers on your phone.

From above, “Okciyapi (Help Each Other)” will look almost like a maze, or a labyrinth in a Gothic cathedral.

About the location of the piece within the garden, Two Stars said, “I specifically chose this site with the awareness that there was a need for healing, for both the community and the land itself. As part of the installation process, my family led a ground cleansing ceremony at the site, to help all of us to move forward in positivity and celebration.”

Walker Executive Director Mary Ceruti said that Two Stars’ sculpture “makes poetic connections between land, water, and language and creates a welcoming site of reflection. … The work adds an important Indigenous voice to the diverse group of artists from around the globe whose work is presented there.”

The public unveiling will take place on Saturday, Oct. 9.

Article continues after advertisement

Children’s Theatre, Penumbra to share in $1.5 million Mellon Foundation grant

The Mellon Foundation announced Monday that five theaters will share a $1.5 million grant to commission and develop 16 new plays for multigenerational audiences by Black, Indigenous, Latinx and AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) writers.

Two of the five, Children’s Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre, are in the Twin Cities. The other three are Ma-Yi Theater Company in New York City, Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles and Native Voices at the Autry, also in Los Angeles.

Over the past two years, the five have formed a partnership for the benefit of all. “The relationships in many cases go back years, even decades,” CTC’s Peter Brosius told MinnPost. “We have co-commissioned and co-produced with both Penumbra and Ma-Yi. Ma-Yi and Latino Theater Company have co-presented work. I have known José Luis Valenzuela [of Latino Theater Company] since my days at the Mark Taper Forum, and we have discussed working together for years.

“We wanted to partner to increase the amount of new plays produced by BIPOC artists for multigenerational audiences, since we all felt the urgent need to create more opportunity for BIPOC artists and audiences. We also want to learn from the extraordinary cultural competencies of our partners and the leadership they have shown naturally. We also all wanted to expand the reach of our theaters to reach multigenerational audiences.”

Mellon thought the partnership was an excellent idea – worth investing $1.5 million, plus support for an annual arts administration fellowship.

The grant will fund an initiative called “Generation Now.” The playwrights will be selected by the Latino, Ma-Yi, Native Voices and Penumbra theaters. All have expertise in creating culturally specific theater. CTC, with expertise in creating dynamic and powerful multigenerational theater, will be the co-commissioner for each play. The arts administration fellow will be housed at CTC.

Penumbra’s Sarah Bellamy calls the possibilities for this project “myriad and so vitalizing.” Ma-Yi’s Ralph B. Peña describes the opportunity to work with CTC as “a long-held dream … made even sweeter by a cohort of culturally specific theaters we have long admired.”

Mellon’s Susan Feder says, “Theaters serving multigenerational audiences are often the first places audiences encounter live theater. Yet despite decades of activity that has resulted in the commissioning of original stories and adaptations of classical and contemporary ones, the field lacks a repertoire that includes a plurality of voices and stories from emerging and established artists of color. … We look forward to the development of a significant body of artistically rigorous new work to be produced in multiple venues across the country.”

To Brosius, this is only the beginning. “The partnership existed before the grant and will continue, and deepen, and grow as we move from discussion, planning and exploring to commissioning and developing the new plays together.”

Former Sen. Dick Cohen is appointed to the Minnesota State Arts Board

When Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, retired from the Senate at the end of 2020, we lost what Americans for the Arts called “the chief legislative champion of the arts in Minnesota.” It was Cohen who made sure that the arts were part of the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, creating 25 years of dedicated funding for the arts in Minnesota – hundreds of millions of dollars and counting.

Sen. Richard Cohen
Former state Sen. Richard Cohen
Cohen served in the Minnesota House from 1977-79 and 1983-87 before moving to the Senate, where he served for 33 years. He cited family reasons and a business opportunity for his decision not to run again.

He also served on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by Obama, for several years. He resigned that position in Aug. 2017, along with 15 other members of the committee, less than a year into Trump’s presidency.

Article continues after advertisement

Cohen might have been officially, legislatively through with the arts when he retired from the Senate, but the arts weren’t through with him. At least, Gov. Tim Walz didn’t think so. Last Friday, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced several appointments to various state boards. And there it was in the press release: “Dick Cohen – St. Paul, MN, State Arts Board, Member, Effective June 30, 2021.”

Welcome back, Sen. Cohen. And thanks to Minnesota Citizens for the Arts’ Larry Redmond for picking up the phone on a Saturday and sharing the news.

The picks

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

Natalie Diaz
Courtesy of Graywolf
Natalie Diaz
V Tonight (Tuesday, June 29), 7 p.m.: Graywolf Press: Celebrate Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Diaz. A Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community, a poet and a former professional basketball player, Diaz just won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection “Postcolonial Love Poem,” published by Graywolf. Along with a reading by Diaz, the evening will include remarks from National Book Award finalist Solmaz Sharif (“Look”), Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae and executive editor Jeff Shotts. Free with registration.

V Wednesday, June 30, 10 a.m.: LAMFcast: Planting New Roots. Last year’s Lakes Area Music Festival was virtual. This year’s will be live and in person, with most concerts taking place at Brainerd’s new Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts and others at the Tornstrom Auditorium. The series of online educational lectures LAMF began last year will return, led by newly appointed artistic advisor Garrett McQueen. In the first LAMFcast – there will be eight in all, held Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. – artistic directors Scott Lykins and John Taylor Ward will discuss the major themes of the 2021 season (which starts July 30), the organization’s re-grounding after a turbulent year, and more. Join with Zoom or Facebook. FMI. Free.

Michael Gruber as Harold Hill and Ann Michels as Marian the Librarian in "The Music Man."
Photo by Dan Norman
Michael Gruber as Harold Hill and Ann Michels as Marian the Librarian in "The Music Man."
L Friday, July 2, at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: “The Music Man” reopens. “The Music Man” at the Chan was one of the last things we saw before the world slammed shut in March 2020. Everything about it was terrific: the dancing, the singing, the costumes, the sets, the cast, the songs. It ran for one week before COVID closed it. There’s poetry in the fact that the play begins on the morning of July 4, 1912, and this production returns on the weekend of July 4. (Tickets are still available for Sunday’s performance, if you want to go on the actual day.) Ann Michels is radiant as Marian the Librarian. FMI and tickets ($65-96).

Jaimie Branch
Photo by Peter Gannushkin
Jaimie Branch
L Friday, July 2, at the Walker, 7 p.m.: Hillside Jazz (Present Tense): Jaimie Branch’s “Fly or Die.” Thank you, Philip Bither (not for the first time, and certainly not for the last) for introducing us to an artist we need to know. Powerful Brooklyn-based composer, improviser, trumpeter and singer Jaimie Branch leads a ferocious quartet that includes drummer Chad Taylor, cellist Lester St. Louis and bassist Jason Ajemian. Be ready to hold on to your sun hat for this one. Free.