Minnesota culture examined: are we great or are we awful?

So the news that Cowles Center Director Frank Sonntag has resigned his position, citing Minnesota culture as his reason for leaving, has sparked a bit of a wildfire in the comments section.

Some, as you might expect, took offense at Sonntag’s remark, and leapt to defend MN culture. Others said he was right to leave.

Commenter “Mateo” put it this way:

Let’s put this into perspective. We live in a state that, by and through its elected officials and political leaders, values unnecessary gay bashing constitutional amendments, record-low state taxes for millionaires, gun rights, taxpayer-funded pro stadiums, and casinos ahead of education, impoverished kids, the elderly, disabled, and certainly the arts. And we should be surprised that a theater and arts director from New York City cites culture shock as his reason for wanting to leave the state?

Minnesota transplant (from California) Matt Saxe had this alternative view:

We have 2 Democratic senators, a woman and a Jewish man, we have a Democratic governor, and my congressman is a Muslim. Thats pretty remarkable to me.

Lots of places around the country put money into pro-sports stadiums, so thats not a big black eye in my opinion, and culturally, we support the arts and have more arts opportunities than practically 95% of communities relative to our size. MN still has a great liberal legacy thanks to Humphrey, Wellstone, and Mondale. We care about kids and the elderly, and all. Sure we have Michelle Bachmann and other wing-nuts, what state doesn’t? Overall, I say we’re pretty good.

So which is it? Are we a cultural haven? Or a cultural wasteland? Or is it just how you choose to view your half-filled glass?

  • Joanne

    I think we might need to realize that this was an ‘excuse’. It probably isn’t the real reason he left. It’s just a statement.

  • stuart klipper

    Clearly the man is a parochail fool. Hardly worth bothering to waste one’s breathe to castigate him. Best leave it at, good riddance and beter luck next time.

  • Mary

    Marianne, just your blog alone makes Minnesota a cultural haven.

    But…I think this post and your question are unnecessarily sensationalistic. Joanne has it right…some reason had to be given for his departure and this was the one probably closest to hand.

    And I don’t think that he was ever intimating that our cultural scene wasn’t what he expected, but rather the way that Minnesotans work (and communicate?) wasn’t what he was used to.

    So let’s chalk it up to an unfortunate remark and move on.

  • Marianne Combs

    Friends – I’m afraid I wasn’t clear enough in my post.

    I want to leave the Frank Sonntag issue behind. Forget he said anything, and focus instead on the two quotes I cited in the post. Both are based in facts, and yet they come to opposite conclusions about the state of our cultural scene. *This* is what I find interesting.

    Here in Minnesota we tend to pride ourselves on our cultural scene, but at least a few people have found us lacking. Are we too self-satisfied? Or is our definition of culture somehow inherently different?

  • Paul

    I think much of the criticism of the MN “cultural” scene has very little to do with the quality of our arts in general. We have nationally, and internationally, renowned musical organizations – orchestras, vocal ensembles, chamber ensembles, dance companies, museums, choirs, opera, literary arts, etc., etc., etc. Our arts product stands on its own.

    I honestly think the criticism has more to do with our arts consumers. In NYC, you see far fewer blue-collar (aka “real”) people consuming top-notch arts. In MN, our cultural institutions have bent over backward trying to remove the “elitist” barrier. Our coaster-friends seem to revel in the elitism, seeing the arts are a means to climb ever-higher on the social ladder.

    In MN, you find a much broader and deeper appreciation for the arts. If the East & West Coasts want to criticize us for that – let them. I’m just fine sticking with the Middle Coast.

  • Marianne Combs

    Nicely put, Paul.