Sage and John Cowles recognized for commitment to arts

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John and Sage Cowles, arts benefactors, will get their due tonight at a special event.

Tonight John and Sage Cowles are being recognized for their lifelong commitment to the arts and for being passionate champions of dance.

Community leaders, friends and family are honoring the philanthropists and arts advocates, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the Minnesota Shubert Center, a new home for dance and performing arts. The center is currently under construction, and set to open in the fall of 2011.

The Cowles’ role in transforming the local arts scene dates back 50 years, when John Cowles helped convince Sir Tyrone Guthrie to build a new theater in Minneapolis. The son of a newspaper man, Cowles worked for his father’s paper, the Minneapolis Tribune. He eventually became president and CEO of the company in 1968. In 1983 he left Cowles Media and spent twenty years doing whatever interested him, including studying agriculture, teaching fitness, and performing alongside his wife as guest artists in the world tour of a dance piece by Bill T. Jones.

Sage Cowles is the namesake of the “Sage Awards” in the Minnesota dance community. A dancer herself, she performed on Broadway and television before marrying her husband and occupying herself with raising their kids.

In her 50s, Sage returned to dance and helped found the Minnesota Independent Choreographers’ Alliance. She taught dance for non-dancers and served on the boards of several dance companies (she currently serves on the board of Merce Cunningham’s company).

Sage and John helped fund the Barbara Barker Center for Dance at the University of Minnesota. They also established the Cowles Land Grant Chair, which underwrites residencies by dancers, choreographers, critics, and other professionals in the field. To date more than 140 guest artists have come to the University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance to teach, choreograph, and lecture through the Cowles’ generosity.

The event honoring the Cowles takes place this evening at the Grain Belt Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis.