After a national search that began in early 2020 and was paused for almost a year when COVID struck, the Weisman Art Museum (WAM) at the University of Minnesota has a new director.
Alejandra Peña-Gutiérrez, who has led the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico since 2013, will start at the Weisman on November 29.
Peña will be WAM’s first new director since 1980, when Lyndel King took over what was then the University Art Museum, whose collections were housed in Northrop Auditorium. King’s legacy includes the iconic Frank Gehry-designed building on the Mississippi River, opened in 1993 and expanded in 2011, and the $2.7 million she raised as an endowment for her successor before retiring in 2020.
In announcing the news last Wednesday, Sept. 15, the U’s Executive Vice President and Provost, Rachel Croson, described Peña as “an internationally accomplished museum leader and accomplished arts professional.”
The Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico is one of the largest art museums in the Caribbean. Despite a devastating hurricane and a major earthquake, Peña strengthened the museum financially, operationally and programmatically. In 2021, the Museo de Arte de Ponce was awarded the U.S. National Medal for Museum and Library Services, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries which make exceptional contributions to their communities.
WAM’s Interim Director and emerita Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson said in a statement, “[Peña] brings a strong international lens to the Weisman, but her work in Mexico and in Puerto Rico, particularly after Hurricane Maria, also makes plain that she will be intensely sensitive to the interests and needs of our various local communities and the many ways in which an art museum can serve both the campus and the broader public.”
Museo de Arte De Ponce has a collection of approximately 4,500 works of art and, in normal times, an annual budget of about $6 million. WAM has 25,000 works; its annual budget is approximately $4 million.
Peña was formerly deputy director general of artistic heritage in Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, an umbrella entity for 18 museums. She holds an architecture degree and a master’s degree in art history from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where she has also taught. She has nearly three decades of experience as an innovative and collaborative leader, curator and educator.
Peña will oversee WAM’s collaborative staff and all operations and activities of the museum, within and beyond the building itself. She will lead high-priority work to develop innovative academic collaborations across the University while also working to deepen engagement with diverse voices and communities beyond the campus, particularly those that have been historically underrepresented in museums.
The Weisman is closed for maintenance until fall 2021. A 60-foot wraparound mural, “Just Yesterday,” is on display along the museums’ exterior façade until Oct. 1.
CMSM starts 2021-22 season by honoring Judy Dayton
If you haven’t been to a Chamber Music Society of Minnesota concert in recent years (or ever), you might want to add one or more to your list this fall. CMSM’s concerts, held in Hamline University’s warm and intimate Sundin Hall at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, have always felt more like friends-and-family gatherings than formal concerts, although the performers are top-notch and the music superb.
CMSM was founded in 1993 by violinist Young-Nam Kim, who now shares the artistic directorship with his daughter, award-winning violinist and Cornell University professor Ariana Kim. Young-Nam Kim is a former faculty member and head of chamber and contemporary music activities at Gunther Schuller’s Festival at Sandpoint. Friends he made there, including jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano and jazz pianist Kenny Werner, have appeared as guest artists with the CMSM. Several CMSM concerts have doubled as birthday parties – for resident cellist (and principal cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra) Anthony Ross, for Young-Nam, for Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
So it’s not surprising that CMSM will launch its 2021-22 season with a concert dedicated to the memory of Judy Dayton, the great philanthropist and arts patron who died in August. On Oct. 17, it will present a program that includes works by Dayton’s dear friend Skrowaczewski, who died in 2017; a premiere by Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg; and Brahms’ Op. 18 sextet.
Dec. 5 will be CMSM’s annual Family Concert, featuring the young musicians of the Northern Lights School for Strings, run by violinist (and Young-Nam’s wife, and Ariana’s mother) Ellen Kim. For this concert, K-12 students get in free.
On Feb. 27, 2022, Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer and performer Caroline Shaw will present an afternoon of new music. This concert was originally scheduled for June 14, 2020; lucky for us, it was only postponed.
April 24 will feature a concert CMSM has titled “Journey East,” with music by Earl Kim, Michio Mamiya, Zhou Long, Piyawat Louilarpprasert, Heitzeg and a surprise premiere.
The 2021-22 season will end on June 12 with CMSM’s inaugural dinner party concert at Caffe Biaggio, with live music and a three-course dinner and wine menu.
Season tickets are available now ($80 adult/$60 senior/$40 student). Single tickets are also available. Please note that Sundin is currently at half-capacity (it seats 325, so do the math) and masks are required for all audience members. There will be no intermission for the Oct. 17 concert and maybe subsequent concerts, too.
In Sept. 2020, when the CMSM couldn’t perform before live audiences but had something important to say, it presented a multimedia work for solo violin and spoken word called “How Many Breaths? In Memory of George Floyd and Countless Others.” Created by Ariana Kim, Penumbra Theater’s Lou Bellamy and Sarah Bellamy, and composer Steve Heitzeg, it was produced in collaboration with Walker West Music Academy. You can view it here, minus the Q&A that followed the original broadcast.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person. For all live events, check with the venue about COVID protocols.
L and V: Today (Tuesday, Sept. 21), 12 noon: Westminster Church: Westminster Town Hall Forum: On Democracy: José Antonio Vargas: “Democracy in the Eyes of an Undocumented Citizen.” Just a reminder that the Forum starts its Fall 2021 season today at noon with an appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony-nominated journalist José Antonio Vargas. Democracy is the Forum’s theme this fall. Fun fact: the Guthrie will open its 2021-22 season with Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Vargas was one of the producers when that show was in New York. Watch the Forum in person at the church (audience capacity limited), watch online here or on the Forum’s Facebook page, or check back later for an archived video you can view anytime. All options are free. Please note that this talk will not be broadcast live by MPR.
L Tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 21), 7:30 p.m. at Icehouse: Tatsuya Nakatani with Nathan Hanson and Chris Bates. Nomadic musician Nakatani plays giant hanging gongs, singing bowls, drums and cymbals with bows, mallets, sticks, his hands and sometimes his breath. Described as an “avant-garde percussionist,” he’s a creator of sound worlds and a tour guide to sonic places you’ve never been. We first heard him at the Clown Lounge in 2008, urged on by bassist Chris Bates, who wrote in an email, “have I ever led you astray? trust me.” Indoor show. 6 p.m. doors. FMI and tickets ($17).
L Tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 21), 7:30 p.m. at the University Club of St. Paul: Readings by Writers. Continuing the long-running series hosted by St. Paul’s poet laureate Carol Connolly, who died in November, lawyer-poet Tim Nolan will host an evening of readings by Patrick Cabello Hansel, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Ted King and Ethna McKiernan. This series takes place in a lovely room in a lovely old building on Summit Ave. Free.
L Wednesday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m.: Minnesota Opera: Ópera Afuera (Opera Outdoors) at Allianz Field. MN Opera kicks off its 2021-22 season with an evening of Latinx vocal music and selections from “La bohème,” “Rigoletto” and “Carmen.” Live and outdoors, with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting the MN Opera Orchestra in a production directed by David Radamés Toro. FMI and tickets ($20; $100 Stadium Club).
L Thursday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m. and Friday, Sept. 24, 8 p.m.: Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra Season Opening: Osmo Vänskä and Joshua Bell. The excitement turns up to 11 when violinist Joshua Bell walks on stage. What a way to start an already thrilling new season. Bell was the guest soloist in Vänskä’s first conducting appearance at Orchestra Hall, three years before he was named music director. The program: Kaleva Aho’s rousing “Minea,” premiered by the orchestra in 2009 (and written for Minneapolis), Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” featuring Bell; Beethoven’s mighty Fifth Symphony; and Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner,” an anthem for the 21st century. FMI and tickets ($55-145). Please note: There will be a 20-minute intermission. Also, there will be a concert preview 45 minutes before each concert begins (Thursday in the Target Atrium, Friday on the mezzanine).
L Thursday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.: Selected theaters: “Dear Evan Hansen.” Before the film adaptation of the Broadway hit opens in wide release, superfans can see it on the big screen with extras: a livestreamed Q&A with the cast and a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. With Ben Platt, Amy Adams, and Julianne Moore. Go here and enter your city or ZIP to see a list of participating theaters near you, with links to tickets and a trailer.