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Carrying Artscape forward

I hope to continue the spirit of inquiry, curiosity and improvisation that Pamela Espeland brought to this column.

Sheila Regan
Sheila Regan

I am honored and humbled to be joining MinnPost as a columnist for Artscape. I also recognize that I step into an enormous wake — of knowledge, of engaging writing, and of a profound appreciation for the arts and artists that my friend, colleague and mentor Pamela Espeland left behind when she passed away suddenly in September.

I was so grateful to the many arts organizations as well as individuals who stepped up to give Pamela a tremendous sendoff at Orchestra Hall on October 26. It was exactly the kind of evening I’m sure she would have loved. Besides the wonderful stories about Pamela and her life, the celebration vibrated with the sounds of musicians as eclectic and exceptional as the music makers she sought out and wrote about in her career.

A jazz trio featuring pianist Chris Lomheim, bassist Gordon Johnson and drummer Jay Epstein treated guests as they entered the lobby and greeted each other in condolences and memory. Later, the program varied from a glorious rendition of Air on the G String by J.S. Bach, performed by musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, to musical conjurings by some of the most adventurous local musicians. Mankwe Ndosi’s magnetic vocal creations seemed to call directly to Pamela’s spirit, as Ndosi sang with multi-instrumentalist Douglas R. Ewart and percussionist Davu Seru. Zeitgeist and Friends and Zacc Harris Group each delivered performances that opened the capillaries with complex sonic meanderings, while composer Steve Kenny closed out the show with a new piece dedicated to Pamela, performed by the multiple groups that had gathered.

It was one of the most memorable musical performances I listened to all year, and I was so happy to be there. It reminded me of all of the things Pamela sought out as a music lover: inquiry, curiosity, give and take between collaborators and embracing the spirit of improvisation. I’ll carry that message with me as I venture forward in my own work as an arts writer.

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I couldn’t possibly “replace” Pamela. Her expertise in music writing, particularly in regard to jazz and experimental music, was deeply rooted and resulted from a life’s worth of research, listening and love for the art form. I learned a lot from her writing and also my conversations with her, where she’d recommend particular musicians or events I should check out. Every time I’ve ever been to Monday Jazz at Icehouse, there would be Pamela and her partner, John Whiting, taking in the latest offerings by Twin Cities jazz artists.

I saw Pamela all the time: at media preview events for art exhibitions; on opening nights at the theater; at music venues, festivals, and happenings; and happy hours with our other women arts writer friends. She gave so much to me in the form of advice, encouragement and tips; I feel I am a better arts writer because of her.

Like Pamela, I intend to cover a variety of topics for the arts column. Each week (beginning in earnest after the New Year), I’ll contribute one piece that will be a rotating selection of features, interviews, previews and news articles about artists, arts organizations, artist leaders, venues, transitions and events. I’ll also be doing roundups each week of upcoming arts events I’m excited about and think MinnPost readers will enjoy. Like Pamela, I’ll be seeking out a wide variety of arts coverage. Theater, music, visual art, experiential art, literature, performance art, comedy— I’m pretty much open to all of it as time allows.

I bring my experience as a Minneapolis-based arts journalist and critic who has written for many local publications, including the Star Tribune, where I continue to write about dance, and the Pioneer Press, where I review classical music, as well as publications nationally and internationally.

I’ve been a journalist since 2008, when I submitted a theater review on spec to Twin Cities Daily Planet. At the time, I was working for a local theater company. I had moved back to the Twin Cities, where I grew up and went to college at Macalester, after getting my MFA in acting from Indiana University and then doing theater for three years in Chicago. I quickly found out in 2008 that journalism was a better fit for me than theater, though I still have a deep affinity for that art form.

Besides my arts writing, I’m also a freelance journalist and essayist, covering a range of topics that have included criminal justice, social justice movements, the environment, immigration, health care and politics. At times these differing aspects of my writing have converged, as I’ve written about ways that current events and social problems intersect with the work of different artists and makers. Sometimes this means artists are responding to the world around them. At other times, artists’ work reverberates profoundly on the world. Occasionally, artists or arts organizations themselves become the news. I hope to address, besides highlighting the many wonderful arts and performances and events happening in our town, links between arts and  politics, social issues and popular culture in ways that offer analysis and insight into all of those realms.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to dig deeper into the arts community of the Twin Cities and beyond and am truly looking forward to the new conversation as I humbly embark on this path.