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Shows on Nicollet Mall left me wondering: Why can’t we do that more often?

Bobby Kahn

At a meet-and-greet event I attended last fall, a Minneapolis mayoral candidate was asked about public funding for U.S. Bank Stadium and the Super Bowl. The candidate supported funding the stadium, with an explanation that we have new people moving here to take corporate jobs and we need to keep them entertained if we want to keep them living here. 

That meet and greet was held just four blocks down Chicago Avenue from the new stadium at Gamut Gallery, an art gallery that opened in 2012. Since it opened, the gallery has shown the work of hundreds of local artists and paid them out over $100,000 for sales of their art. Thousands of people have come through the doors to attend the diverse, multidisciplinary exhibits and community events held at the gallery in that time.

In a quintessentially Minneapolis tale, the gallery was evicted from its original location at 10th Street and Marquette two years ago to make way for the construction of an apartment building, and settled into its new home — where its rent more than doubled. The gallery’s ability to keep its doors open is largely thanks to volunteers who work for next to nothing out of a passion for arts and community. I am one of those volunteers.

Nearly all of our exhibits get written up in the press, we have high attendance at our events, and we do quite well in art sales. With the rent increase, we had to make the tough decision to start charging admission to come to our events, and thankfully our patrons have kept coming through our door. Despite all our success, we are still just scraping by. Even with the additional income from the door, we are unable to compensate our volunteers anything beyond a few cents per hour.

Arts organizations add value, yet are endangered

As the forces of development and gentrification sweep through our city, many other arts organizations could share a similar tale, though some will tell it using the past tense. For instance, the Triple Rock, one of Minneapolis’ most beloved independent music venues, shut down last year after nearly 20 years in business. Another of the West Bank’s musical institutions, Whiskey Junction, followed suit within weeks of the Triple Rock’s closing.

At this rate, I’m afraid if we don’t act soon, we won’t have much in the way of arts and culture left to save.

I am not much of a sports fan, but I can still see the clear economic value U.S. Bank Stadium and the Super Bowl offer. I agreed with the mayoral candidate who said we need to keep residents of the area entertained. Not everyone finds entertainment in sporting events, though.

The Triple Rock, Gamut Gallery, and hundreds of other galleries, venues, and art spaces serve much the same purpose as U.S. Bank Stadium and the Super Bowl. They are places for people to gather and bond over shared interests, where entertainment and merriment is provided and communities are built. I don’t think anyone could deny that these establishments add value to this city, that they make Minneapolis a better place.

Incredibly memorable concert series

I had a fantastic time attending the free concerts offered on Nicollet Mall during the Super Bowl festivities. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did a great job curating a lineup that put our wealth of hometown musical talent on display. Seeing The Time, Sheila E, and The Revolution share a stage and Bob Mould play “Love Is All Around” (a Husker Dü cover of the theme song of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) just a block away from where the eponymous Moore famously threw her hat in the air were some of the highlights of an incredibly memorable concert series.

The shows on Nicollet Mall left me wondering: Why we can’t do that more often? Compared to our neighbors in the Midwest such as Milwaukee and even Eau Claire, Wisconsin, we are sorely lacking when it comes to music festivals. It seems that the City of Minneapolis is only willing to facilitate a large-scale music event when a big sporting event is in town. Whether it be closing off 8th Street for several weeks for the Super Bowl or allowing music outdoors until midnight during the X-Games last summer, it feels like music without a sporting event attached doesn’t have much merit in the eyes of the city.

Gamut Gallery obviously doesn’t have the same economic impact as U.S. Bank Stadium or the Super Bowl, but we also don’t need millions and millions of dollars in subsidies; $10,000 in annual operating support would make a substantial difference in the vitality of the gallery, a drop in the bucket compared to what the city spends each year on stadiums and sporting events.

St. Paul’s example

From Minneapolis, one need only look across the Mississippi River to see a city that provides funding for arts and culture. The City of St. Paul designates a portion of its sales tax revenue to go toward arts organizations as part of the Cultural STAR program, doling out nearly $2 million in grants each year to various arts organizations within the city.

In 2017, St. Paul completed work on the beautiful Palace Theater, and contracted with First Avenue to run it. An investment north of $15 million was required from the City of St. Paul to renovate the old theater, but what they got in return is one of, if not the best music venues Minnesota has to offer, a true pride of the Twin Cities.

All of this leaves me puzzled as to how the City of Minneapolis can commit to spending three quarters of a billion dollars for the construction and upkeep of U.S. Bank Stadium, and offer millions in incentives to lure the NFL’s biggest game, yet spend next to nothing on arts and culture, which are equally important to the city for the sake of entertaining residents, attracting visitors, and increasing the quality of life.

I am encouraged to see two artists elected to the Minneapolis City Council in Andrea Jenkins and Jeremiah Ellison, I am hopeful the time is ripe for change on this front. If we don’t act soon, rising real estate prices and an increasing minimum wage may mean there isn’t much culture left to save. I hope Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council see it the same way. The drive to the Palace Theater isn’t too bad, but like many Minneapolis residents, I’d prefer to stay on this side of the river.

Bobby Kahn is an artist, event promoter, writer and accountant living in Minneapolis. 

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