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Westminster Town Hall Forum to focus on democracy; JazzMN Orchestra at Crooners

ALSO: “Red Hot Friday” at Stevens Square Park; Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog; and more.

Left to right: José Antonio Vargas, Dr. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, LaTosha Brown and The Honorable John R. Tunheim.
Left to right: José Antonio Vargas, Dr. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, LaTosha Brown and The Honorable John R. Tunheim.
Courtesy of the Westminster Town Hall Forum

What we wish we could write, right now, is how the arts are roaring back. Not long ago, in pre-delta-variant days, a lot of people were writing that. Theater was roaring back. Music was roaring back. The poetry slam scene was roaring back.

Arts organizations haven’t stopped announcing new seasons, but the roar is more an inside voice, laying out plans and reassuring us that the latest COVID protocols – whatever those might be – will be followed.

Westminster Town Hall Forum today announced its first in-person season in nearly two years. This will be Tane Danger’s first in-person season since being appointed director of the long-running, highly respected lecture series in late 2020.

As of now, masks will be required and audiences will be limited to 25% of the sanctuary’s capacity, or 400 people.

The season will focus on a single topic, and the talks will not be broadcast live by MPR. Starting Sept. 7, MPR News Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer will host a new midday magazine program over the weekday noon hour, when the forums take place. Instead of airing them live, MPR will broadcast recordings of all four talks from Nov. 29-Dec. 2 as a special event.

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Meanwhile, if you want to watch or listen to a livestream of each forum in real time, you can do that on Westminster Town Hall Forum’s web page and Facebook page. If you have done this in the past, you should notice a big difference.

“Over the course of the pandemic, the Forum invested a lot in making our livestreams better,” Danger said yesterday by phone. “We’re leaning into them being an actual virtual experience, dynamic, compelling and fun to watch. Instead of a single camera set up in the back of the sanctuary, we have two stationery cameras, one roving camera and a producer. We’re trying to convey what it feels like to be in the room.”

The forums will also be archived on the website.

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Danger and his advisory board of Westminster and community members chose democracy as the theme of this season’s forums. There could hardly be a more important or timely topic, and this series will look at it from all sides: how democracy has been a tool for social and racial progress, how it has been used to marginalize communities based on race and class, how American democracy is being strained to its limits by a myriad of modern forces.

“The series will talk about the power of democracy as a force for ethical good in the world, and the ways that democracy sometimes lets us down, or groups of people down, or frustrates the pursuit of a more just and ethical society,” Danger explained. “To hold both of these ideas at the same time will be challenging, valuable and good. It’s a complex conversation, and that’s what I want the Forum to be about.”

Here’s the series:

Tuesday, Sept. 21: José Antonio Vargas: “Democracy in the Eyes of an Undocumented Citizen.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the best-selling memoir “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” will speak about democracy, belonging and what citizenship really means.

Monday, Oct. 4: Dr. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun: “Democracy’s Digital Dilemma.” The director of the Digital Democracies Institute will talk about how the internet and algorithms have undermined democracy and how they could be used in the pursuit of racial and social justice.

Tuesday, Oct. 26: LaTosha Brown: “Ensuring Black Voters Matter.” Brown is the cofounder of three initiatives designed to boost Black voter registration and turnout and increase power in marginalized communities. She’ll talk about grassroots activism and voter suppression efforts since the 2020 election.

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Tuesday, Nov. 16: The Honorable John R. Tunheim: “Democracy and the Courts.” Tunheim is Chief U.S. District Judge in the District of Minnesota. He has spent much of his career helping develop the rule of law in new democracies, including drafting the Kosovo Constitution. He’ll speak on the role of the judiciary in America and the steps the court is taking to engage in civics education through its new Justice and Democracy centers. This forum will start with a naturalization ceremony of new U.S. citizens.

All talks will begin at noon in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church. All are free and open to the public. FMI.

The picks

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

L Friday, Aug. 27, 4-8 p.m. at Stevens Square Park: Stevens Square Community Organization Presents Red Hot Friday & Red Hot Shots. This month’s Red Hot Friday will feature DJ Sci-Fi, poetic rapper, singer and dancer FreeQueenSee & Friendz, a dozen art vendors (clothes, accessories, pottery, prints, rugs, jewelry, paintings, etc.), La Tortilla Food Truck, MaraBee’s Cupcakes, Red Wolf Chai and free COVID-19 vaccines administered by Black Nurses Rock. Get the jab, walk away with cash, free Red Hot Art food and art vouchers, and a chance to win up to $300. 1801 Stevens Ave. Free.

L Opens Friday, Aug. 27, at the Lagoon: “The Lost Leonardo.” Andreas Koefoed’s documentary tells the inside story of the “Salvator Mundi,” the most expensive painting in the world. FMI including times, trailer and tickets.

A scene from “Never Gonna Snow Again.”
A scene from “Never Gonna Snow Again.”
L Opens Friday, Aug. 27, at MSP Film’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Never Gonna Snow Again.” Zhenia (Alec Utgoff) is an itinerant masseur with a magical touch in this social satire from Polish auteur Malgorzata Szumowska. Beloved by critics, it was Poland’s Oscar submission in 2020 and a Best of Fest in last year’s MSPIFF. FMI, trailer and tickets ($13).

L Saturday, Aug. 28, 8 p.m. at the Black Dog in Lowertown: Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog. Opening set: Steve Kenny Trio with Kenny on trumpet, Sam Worthington on bass and Jay Epstein on drums. Second set (9:30): Twin Cities faves and McKnight fellows Atlantis Quartet, with Zacc Harris on guitar, Chris Bates on bass, Brandon Wozniak on saxophones and Pete Hennig on drums. Free, but show some love to the tip jar. That’s how the artists are paid. Or reserve a seat at a table near the stage for $20. FMI.

JC Sanford and the JazzMN Orchestra
Courtesy of the JazzMN Orchestra
JC Sanford and the JazzMN Orchestra
L and V Sunday, Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m. at Crooners: JazzMN Orchestra Presents What Women Write. JazzMN’s artistic director and conductor JC Sanford said about this show: “We’re gonna have Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston and Toshiko Akiyoshi, legends of jazz composition and particularly big band music, mixed in with people like Asuka Kakitani and Maria Schneider … The hardest part was to figure out what tunes not to include, which composers not to include, because there are so many fabulous female composers.” In the Belvedere, the big white tent by the lake. Doors at 6:15 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30). The performance will also be livestreamed for free through the Keep Music Live fund. Register here. Read a feature story about Sanford and Kakitani here.