Thursday, January 08, 2009

For a limited time - Contribute your thoughts on the best of 2008 theater

OK, everybody. Forget Graydon, Rohan, Dominic, Quinton and John - time for *you* to sound off. I write some for, and my editor Susannah is pulling together a "2008 Year In The Arts" series. She got so many responses from areas other than theater that it quickly convinced her it was not one, but several articles. One drawback, no theater feedback. That's right, nothin'. I feared I had missed her deadline by being out of town, but now it's been extended to next Monday or Tuesday. (And even that, as you'll see below, is flexible.) I asked if she'd mind my posting the call for theater here, as I know you're not shy about sharing your opinions, and she said, "sure, it's an open invitation." So read on, wrack your brain for a handful of your favorite anythings in theater (events offstage or on, design as well as performance, etc.), and send it her way. The more the merrier. No one can see everything, but between all of us, we've probably seen a heck of a lot. Let her, and the wider net, know about it. Bear witness, my theater folk!

Susannah's second call for theater feedback specifically...

Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:

The mission of is to improve the lives of Minnesota artists and to provide access to and engagement with Minnesota's arts culture.

Hi folks,

I'm writing, just one more time, to see if I can twist your arm into putting a few sentences down (specifically in the category of notable developments / performers & playwrights / productions / companies for any kind of theater) for a year-end wrap feature I'm putting together. The good news is I got quite a lot of response; so much, in fact, that I've decided this merits a two- or three-part series, with responses divvied up by discipline.

Thus far, other disciplines are pretty well-represented, but at this point I've gotten no reflections from anyone working in theater! I very much want to include local theater in this feature, but I'll need your participation to pull that off. (I'm pasting the note I sent out last week for your reference below.) If there's anyone you think would like to give their two cents as well, feel free to pass this around-the more the merrier. I just want to be sure the richness of the MN theater community is well represented here, too.

If you can get your thoughts to me by next Monday or Tuesday, that would be lovely. If that timeline is too tight, but you'd still like to send something, go ahead-I'll just add it in when I hear from you. (I love online publishing for that fluidity.) This absolutely doesn't need to be a lot of writing or terribly involved -- just pick your favorite local writer of the year, call out a great fellow performer or playwright, lament/celebrate a new trend or hail a company's success. It can be just a couple of sentences. My aim is merely to do my best to include your voices and insights, as a diverse body of working artists, into the mix.

One small additional request:
please look to your sentence or two of bio for any self-promotion you find yourself wanting to do. (It's a totally understandable temptation to use this as a platform to promote your own stuff, but I'd very much appreciate it if you'd offer your take on something from outside that sphere in addition to that, too.)

Thanks everyone!


Susannah's original call for material in general on the arts in 2008...

Hi everyone,

2008 has been a tumultuous year for the local arts scene, and it sure looks like there are lots more changes afoot as we head into 2009. Here at we're aiming to take stock of the highpoints (and low, perhaps) of last year in our state's arts scene; and also to look forward, to where we may be headed as we embark on the new year. I'm writing to reach out to you-a generous handful of curators, contributors, and friends of help us out in this endeavor.

My question for you is a simple one (and your answer can certainly be as well):

As you look back at all the regional arts happenings and reflect on all the arts-related news you've read in the recent months, good and bad, what sticks with you? Among all the events, news, trends, shows, artistic creations-what, to your mind, is going to continue to leave the greatest, most enduring impact on the scene in 2009? Or, more personally, what have you seen/witnessed/heard in the last year that you just loved, and that you
want more people to know about?

Your main take-away from the last year could be a show that blew you away, a piece of news that you find to be emblematic of a trend going forward; maybe you read a book by a local author and it continues to linger in your mind, or perhaps you listened to a local musician's album and it left you reeling. Maybe you're worried about the arts economy, or, on the other hand, perhaps you're feeling more optimistic about the future health of the state's arts and artists, thanks to the newly-passed Clean Water, Land, and Legacy

So, hit me. To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, I'm pasting some introductory notables for our year-in-review from Scott Stulen, project director of

Look for the results, where I'll collate the responses I receive from all of you, to be published as part of next week's issue of access+ENGAGE. I know these year-end lists can never really capture the whole picture, and they're terrible at getting at nuance; but they're sure fun to read and, with thoughtful insights from wide variety of folks (like you-all), such things can be a good place from which to start a larger conversation.

If you'd like to have your thoughts included in our year-end wrap-up feature, please get the following to me by Monday, January 5:

1. Your name and ONE or TWO notable local arts pick(s) from 2008 (whatever / whoever it may be) - can be an exhibition, a trend-in-the-making, a happening or news item, book, film, album, live show, an emerging artist... whatever you like

2. A sentence or two articulating why you think your selection is the stand-out trend/release/show/news/artist/etc from the past year

3. A few words of bio for yourself (e.g. sculptor, curator for gallery x, musician in Band ABC, etc) and a link to your website (if applicable), plus town where you live

That's it. If you have time to weigh in, I'd very much appreciate having your insights in the mix, and I know our 8400 readers would too. The year has just been too big, the happenings too complex and too numerous, for this assessment to come from just a couple of us.

Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:

On to the example: Here's what Scott Stulen had to say when I put the question to him.

Year in Review, MN Arts in 2008: Scott Stulen, Project Director

1. The passage of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment

The overwhelming support and successful passage of this landmark amendment is a tribute to years of research, a savvy marketing campaign, pooling of collective resources and the long-range vision of voters. The New Year will provide many challenges for arts organizations; the passage of this amendment is a strong statement as to the priority we place on the culture and environment within the state of Minnesota. The next challenge will be figuring out how the money will be spent when it becomes available in 2011. Here is my follow-up question for 2009: "What is the corresponding responsibility of publicly funded artists and organizations to the greater community"?

2. Arts Organizations in trouble

2008 was a year filled with challenges and financial difficulty for many arts organizations. Sadly we lost several key organizations, notably the Minnesota Center for Photography and Minnesota Museum of American Art, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Other organizations have been forced to cut staff and programming to survive project budget shortfalls (Intermedia Arts). Everyone is facing a new landscape of funding and programming, however this could be a wonderful opportunity for local artists to come together and create a more vibrant and supportive arts community.

3. Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

"Change" was the (most obnoxiously overused) word of 2008, both in the election cycle and also amongst the local art scene. There were several new additions throughout the local arts institutions, including key positions at the Walker and MIA. Stewart Turnquist resigned after three decades as head of the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program at the MIA raising concerns in the local art community as to the future of the program. Jeff Bartlett, longstanding Artistic Director at the Southern Theater also made his exit, which prompted a similar outcry from many in the performance community.

4. Bon Iver

Eau Claire, Wisconsin's Justin Vernon retreated to a Northern Wisconsin cabin and emerged with one of the most fragile, beautiful and intimate albums in years. Technically this was widely circulated last year through music blogs other sources, but 2008 saw the official release of the album and Vernon's rapid rise to the top of hipster neo-folk movement. Bon Iver's second album titled Blood Bank will be released January 20th.

5. D.I.Y. and Contemporary Craft Movement

Craftiness is hot. From the Local Crafters 612 and No Coast Craft-O-Rama, to Craft and Make magazine everything is covered in felt, letterpressed or hacked from some battery-powered toy. As we get increasingly dependent on our cool digital technology it seems a desire for precious, unique hand-made objects is on the rise. I'm not immune: I've been keeping my iphone in a recycled necktie pouch.

6. My Personal Favorites from 2008

Aviette's The Way We Met, Haley Bonar's Big Star, Roman Signer and Chris Larson at the Rochester Art Center, Bruce Tapola at Occasional Art, miniStories Readings at the Ritz, Chuck Olsen and the Uptakes's election coverage, my growing addiction to Facebook,, Robot Love and being back in Minneapolis

Thanks so much, and happy New Year to you all. Have at it! I'm eager to hear
your picks.


Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:


Okay, everybody. Start typing.

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