State of the Arts

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Dread Scott, one of the artists featured in the Walker Art Center‘s “Radical Presence” exhibition, has written an essay for the museum criticizing the actions of police in Ferguson, and looking at the cultural ramifications of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Performance Still, “I Am Not a Man” by Dread Scott, 2009

Scott says people are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the police and other foundational values of American society.

America was founded on genocide and slavery. We all know this, but do we all think through the implications of this history for the present? White supremacy was woven into the very fabric of this country, and its Constitution was written to enshrine this. It is a document written by slave owners and friends of slave owners to rule a society run by slave owners where the foundation of the economy was slavery. Four paragraphs into Article 1, and the US Constitution is giving disproportionate congressional representation to slave owners based upon their wealth (i.e. the people they enslaved). So for all this ballyhooed freedom and democracy and “We the people” bulls**t, I’m not impressed.

Scott chose his stage name as a tribute to Dred Scott,  a slave who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in 1857 after the man who owned him, an Army doctor, spent time in Illinois, a free state, and Wisconsin, a free territory. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and ruled that slave owners had the right to take slaves into the western territories.

Scott says that ruling “pivoted on citizenship, but ideologically it hinged on whether those who governed America viewed Africans and African-Americans as human beings deserving of any rights.” He says the sentiments in the Dred Scott decision shine a light on the government’s behavior toward blacks even today.

For his part, Scott is asking people to participate in the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation” called for by Carl Dix (founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party), public intellectual Cornel West and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.

What would it mean if as part of that, for one week in October, several museums showed work from their collection that speaks to this issue and designated it as part of the Month of Resistance? How could other artists find ways to join in this collective dissent? I will be part of this and I hope other artists and my colleagues in the arts find a way to not let the deaths and injustices described here be in vain.

From my perspective all of this is an important and necessary beginning. But as I’ve said repeatedly, this whole system that cut down Mike Brown is illegitimate and it is worthless. We need revolution to get rid of this system and replace it with a new power that works in the interest of the people. Let’s work toward a world where a Google search for “police kill unarmed youth” returns only results in the distant past.

You can read the entire piece here.

The Minneapolis comedy institution Brave New Workshop is expanding its presence downtown.

The company has bought a five-story property at 727 Hennepin Avenue, located just across the street from the theater’s main stage, which it purchased in 2011.

It will replace the space it leased for nearly 50 years in Uptown, also on Hennepin Avenue, Brave New Workshop co-owner John Sweeney said.

“It’s a perfect fit,”Sweeney said. “It’s got a history — it was a newsreel theater, there was some mischievous behavior when it was the Esquire theater. It’s everything that the BNW loves, and it enables us to create a campus feel where we can have our students, our event guests, and our corporate training guests all in the same one block vicinity.”

The Brave New Workshop runs an improv theater, a school and corporate training services. It also rents out its space at 824 Hennepin for events. The new building, formerly the home of Teeners Theatrical Costume Shop, will offer more than five times the classroom space as its previous location. It also has a sizable basement to house the company’s archives. First-floor tenant UNBank  will remain and provide an extra source of revenue.

Nicolet National Bank in Green Bay is helping to finance the purchase.

Sweeney said the latest move is part of making good on a promise that he and Jenni Lilledahl made to founder Dudley Riggs when they bought the company from him in 1997.

“He sold it to us because he wanted us to create a sustainable financial model, and a permanent home,” Sweeney said. “We now have a financial model that really is sustainable, and we have two pieces of downtown real estate in the heart of the theater district which will ensure that the school and the theater will be around much longer than Dudley or Jenni and I.”

When Sweeney and Lilledahl bought Brave New Workshop it had a budget of $250,000; it has since grown to $3 million.

Sweeney says the details of the purchase will be made public in the next few weeks, after the sale is finalized. Then the company will get to work renovating the second, third and fourth floors, with the goal of opening up the classrooms late this fall.

He’s particularly excited about the launch of a new “Train the Trainer” initiative.

“It will allow people to come from all over and certify them in improvisational training. They then take our curriculum to Des Moines, or Spokane or Singapore or Galway,” explained Sweeney. “We now have the facilities to launch this curriculum – which is really truly our brand – across the globe.”

Still, leaving the Uptown building was not easy.

“That’s where I did my first BNW show; that’s where I changed my life from corporate real estate to being an improv actor,” Sweeney said. “There are a lot of wonderful memories in that space – over three million people came and laughed there, so it was a tough decision emotionally.”

He recognizes there’s a financial risk to the expansion, but says that’s nothing new for the Brave New Workshop.

“That’s the challenge of being both an arts organization and a self funding entrepreneurial organization — it’s not perfect,” Sweeney said.. “And so you expand on faith and expand on mission, add new people and new expenses and then work your butt off to pay for it all.”

Downtown Stillwater and the Stillwater Lift Bridge could be featured in a new HBO drama bearing the town’s name. (Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News)

First Fargo, now Stillwater.

According to, Howie Deutch is directing and producing a new one-hour drama named after the riverfront tourist haven.

Deutch is best known for being the co-executive director of HBO’s “True Blood.”

According to the report, “‘Stillwater’ follows a New York City cop as his life spirals out of control when he relocates his family to a small town in Minnesota.”

It also states that Colin Farrell has been identified as executive producer, which has spurred speculation that the Irish actor will star in the show.  Hastings native Mark Steven Johnson has been mentioned as both executive producer and writer. Johnson wrote the scripts for both “Grumpy Old Men” and  “Grumpier Old Men,” the latter of which also was directed by Deutch.