Cowles Center executive director resigns

Frank Sonntag was hired ten months ago from New York City to take the helm of the brand new Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.

Today it was announced that, just two months after the center opened to the public, Sonntag has resigned.


Frank Sonntag

MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

In a sparsely worded release, Sonntag explained his decision this way:

I have the utmost respect for the leadership of Artspace and I’m confident

that The Cowles Center will continue to thrive. I came to Minnesota because

I believed in the mission of The Cowles Center, and I still do. But after

spending most of my professional life in New York, I don’t feel the Minnesota

culture is one I’m well suited for. It has been a struggle, but ultimately I

think this is the best decision for the organization.

Sonntag will remain at his post through the end of the year.

  • prufrock

    “Minnesota culture?”

    What, exactly does that mean? It sounds like code for something, and quite condescending at that.

  • LaVona Shrarts

    I understand completely ! I wouldn’t fit into he NY art world. We are slow, they are fast! 2 different worlds. Both are good but not fitting for all.

  • jeffrey

    Why didn’t he come visit before he accepted the job? What a waste of time and resources.

  • gml4

    I am reminded of the whole Stephon Marbury episode. Some east coasters have a tough time here.

  • We could have – should have – introduced him to a good woman!! Or man. 🙂

  • Mateo

    Will Amy Zoch, Kurt Zellers, Tony Sutton, & Michael Brodkorb try to stop Frank Sonntag at the airport?

  • Mateo

    Seriously though, 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? The poor guy probably came here with the reasonably-though-mistaken belief that Minnesota was the land of Humphrey and Wellstone. It wasn’t until he lived here for ten months that he realized it’s the state of Elmer Fudd and Floyd R. Turbo, American.

  • Fritz Knaak

    Probably doesn’t know how to fish. Met the guy. He’s top drawer. But the air is clean and the city’s not crowded. And it’s NOT New York, although I’d argue that the theater and dance scene is here, pound for pound, much better.

  • Mateo, your comments seem a bit harsh on MN. I relocated here from L.A. about 3 years ago and while I have made some adjustments culturally and still am, the transistion has been pretty smooth for me. 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.

    The Cowles Center and Artspace is about putting MN on the map world-wide for dance and the performing arts, so I would hope taking on that challenge and formenting change would be appealing to an artistic/managing director. But not for Mr. Sonntag apparently.

    If MN isn’t for Mr. Sonntag, it isn’t for him and I wish him the best, but I hope he won’t bash MN in the press, as his “Minnesota culture” comment does come off as elitist and condescending.

  • hmd

    He was like Kim Kardashian… couldn’t cut it here. See ya later!

  • @Matt Saxe: That was the impression I got from Sonntag’s comment about “Minnesota culture”; I live in Montréal currently, but I’m a St. Paul native, and when another university student (from New York, in fact) said, “If I were from the Midwest, I’d want to get out too”, I was furious; the guy had never even been anywhere but the coasts, and he somehow thought all we have in the middle is corn and trees.

    If he (Sonntag) was expecting a cosmopolitan environment like New York, then no, Minnesota’s not a good fit. On the other hand, the Cities especially are a hotbed of creativity, certainly one of the greatest in the country; his comment doesn’t parse, then, at least not in a way clean of élitism.

  • Mateo

    Hey Matt, in what land of make-believe did you get that half-full glass? And did you get those rose-colored glasses in California? Nice…

  • Hmm, well, ok, that’s different. Why don’t you take some lefse for the road?

  • @Ben Lewis: I am originally from the Midwest (St. Louis, MO) and have lived in the South and L.A. for 8 years. People on both coasts really don’t know much about the Midwest, so your roommates ignorant comment doesn’t really surprise me. There’s a reason why its called “fly-over country”. I experienced that kind of ignorance in L.A. fom native Californians all the time. They knew nothing of the Midwest or South, but felt perfectly fine about ripping both areas with no thought. Regional prejudice is one of the last remaining prejudices its fine to have. You should try and educate your roommate instead of lashing out at him. Ignorance can be changed, stupid can not. Good luck and thanks! I do find Mr. Sonntags comment elitist and condescending. So that’s what I said.

    @Mateo: Whats wrong with seeing it as half-full? Name another city in the country outside NYC/Boston on the east coast and L.A./SF-Bay Area on the west coast and Chicago, where the arts are valued like this, where we have this many elected Democrats, and where there is a Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment to protect our natural resources and places and support the arts? I have come to these conclusions after 3 years here.

    Is it perfect here? No. Its not, and its not a place for everyone. But its a lot better than most other places comparitively. Better to accentuate the positive and work to make changes for the positive than give up as Mr. Sonntag seems to be doing.

    I live here because I have to to be closer to my daughter. Overall, I feel pretty lucky because as I point out, 95% of other cities this size don’t compare at all to here when it comes to having arts opportunities and a legacy of liberalism. Call it looking thru rose-colored glasses if you like, but maybe you should take off your hell-colored ones, step back, and take a good luck at how lucky we are.

  • @Matt Saxe: Luckily he’s not my roommate, just in one of my lectures. I haven’t talked to him any time recently, at least.

    @Mateo, your comments are surprisingly negative. What’s wrong with optimism? Without it, nothing will change, so don’t be so down about our state.

  • Samuel

    Lets remember something, folks. In today’s world, “resigned” is often disguised for “fired.”

  • Tom N

    I too moved here from New York, and here is my conclusion: Minnesota is America’s septic tank. As long as I’m here, I consider it a sort of death sentence. Thankfully, I travel a lot and get to spend time in real cities where people have souls. The author of this article is plainly trying justify what he KNOWS was a terrible decision (his moving here). People leave the Twin Cities because they suck (as in, suck the life out of you). Minnesota is full of depressing, mean, culturally-inbred people whose idea of a good time is talking about their lawnmowers, eating “food” that a dog on the coast wouldn’t touch with its ass, and falling over themselves in “sports bars” (just so you know, no one else in the world knows what a sports bar is). If you want proof of the fact that Minnesota is just an overgrown Jerkwater, you need look no further than this very article. Only a human cesspool needs someone to argue why you should stay mired in it and share in its stink. Stephen King based his novels on life in Maine because if he’d based them on Minnesota, they’d be too gross.

  • Van Holland

    What better definition of delusion could one find but here in the comments regarding Mr Santags resignation as executive Director at the Cowles center for arts. posts such as the latter are an incredible display of Minnesotan ignorance,foolishly accented with spoiled egos and just the type of hypocrisy that handicaps our arts potential growth.

    Politely poised, wise the heck up MInnesota. . . Seriously, what professional in his or her right mind with such esteemed credits as Mr Santags resume displays, would relocate, assume a position far less pristiges than the former and publicly promote his enthusiasm for our states great potential in the arts only to recant with insult 10 short months later. It’s Professional suicide is not an executive decision I’d imagine a person of his esteemed education would willingly employ.

    As a Minnesota Native and subject of its art community, I know all too well the social climate of our socialites insecurity with outsiders,is one which is most likely associated with the artistic decay we may endure,fearful of the Change Santag would have likely promoted.

    Whomever coined the phrase MInnesota nice was not playing in the league of these Queens and aught to rephrase as Minnesota ice. I’m personally proud to be a Minnesotan and truly believe we are a special class in Union,but I am certainly not supportive of our cult like culture nor of it’s clueless callaborative board.

    Bottom line, who knows what prompted or preempted Santags resignation, I dont and I doubt anyone posting prejudice here does either. I’d like to hear from Mr Santag himself on this as Its more likely “the”public statement issued is as full of holes as the pedestals its elusive “authors” teeters upon.

  • Marianne Combs

    Well hasn’t this morphed into an interesting discussion? Seems to me this is less about Frank Sonntag, and more about how we want to be seen, and how we see ourselves.

    I think your “glass half full vs glass half empty” debate is a good one, so I’ve turned it into its own post, which you can find back on the State of the Arts main page.

    Are we great or are we awful? Take you best shot, but then PROVE IT.

  • Katherine Werner