Architect, part deux

Two projects in the portfolio of Tim Carl -- a colleague of Joan Soranno at HGA Architects -- proved that 2012 was a very good year for modernism. As lead designer of the Nelson Center, an addition to the American Swedish Institute, Carl maintained a sensitive balance of contemporary minimalism (glass walls, skylights and green roof) and traditional folk style (leather-wrapped handrails, oak beams, slate shingles). In St. Paul, he reprised that modernist aesthetic in a renovation and expansion of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center at Macalester College, where an airy two-story atrium now serves as the lobby for the school's music, visual art, theater and dance programs.


Story of the year: Musician lockouts

It is rare when contract negotiations result in the lockout of a city's world-class orchestra. It is unprecedented when that happens to two world-class ensembles in the same metropolitan area. The ongoing dispute between musicians and management at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has silenced these bands for the past two months and brought national attention to the current state of the classical-music industry.


Creative kid stuff

Much ado was made about Korean rapper/dancer PSY's "Gangnam Style" video crossing the 1-billion-hits mark on YouTube. How about a bunch of grade-school students from north Minneapolis getting 4.7 million hits (and counting) with no corporate promotion -- just backing from a North Community YMCA after-school program? Y.N.Rich Kids' "Hot Cheetos & Takis" delivered some seriously appetizing rhymes about the young rappers' favorite vices. As Toki Wright, local rap star and educator (whose daughter appeared in the clip), said: "Kids can make a lot with a little, and this video shows it."


A debut to remember

Minneapolis writer Will Alexander was astounded when his debut young-adult novel, "Goblin Secrets," was named a National Book Award finalist. The call came on his 36th birthday, and at first he thought friends were playing a prank. But in November, in New York City, when his name was read as the winner, it was no prank. "My mind went blank," he said later that evening. "I'm still not used to being a novelist at all. I've only been a novelist since March." Alexander, who sold books at Magers & Quinn and writes occasionally for Rain Taxi Review of Books, teaches English at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. And he is still writing -- a companion book, "Ghoulish Song," is due in March.


Good neighbors

As media spun through the endless cycle of Campaign 2012, photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar decided to engage the country on a human level with a series of road trips through the Rust Belt. Having explored Minnesota's shadowed soul last winter in the book "House of Coates," they expected to trace the decay of community life in hard times. But what they also found -- and documented in three "newspapers" and online at -- was a hope that better days lie ahead, and the refreshing openheartedness of people who, Zellar writes, "had been tenderized by their experiences and their lives, yet who took the time to show us their towns, their homes, and in some instances their scars." If ever journalism and poetry can intersect, this must be the place.


The memorialist

Haunted by a 13-second disaster in which 190 people plunged from a bridge into the Mississippi River, photographer Vance Gellert grabbed a camera and spent two years documenting the aftermath of that 2007 horror. Hundreds of photos later, he assembled 50 portraits into "The Bridge," a show at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis that commemorates "what went wrong and what went right." Video interviews and text panels recount the heroic efforts of ordinary people whose lives were changed dramatically by the failure of a bridge. The exhibit ends this Sunday (noon to 5 p.m., 704 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis), but Gellert plans to take his show on the road next year.


Yarn king

Even in an art form defined by unconventional methods, HOTTEA stands out -- and he did so in bright, colorful ways in 2012. The street art veteran (real name: Eric Rieger) doesn't use spray paint; he covers the city in yarn. This year, passersby saw his HOTTEA tag woven through chain-link fences from Minneapolis to New York. While his brand of "yarn-bombing" has been a gallery darling before, this summer he went big: His massive installation at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts used 84 miles of yarn to create an interpretation of the sun.


Team players

Talk about synergy: The 30th-anniversary roster members of Zenon Dance Company complement each other very well. Newbies Tristan Koepke and Scott Mettille looked right at home dancing alongside veterans Mary Ann Bradley, Tamara Ober, Leslie O'Neill, Stephen Schroeder, Laura Selle Virtucio and Greg Waletski during spring and fall seasons at the Cowles Center. Not only did they mesh consistently, but they did so in a repertory rich with stylistic diversity (modern, jazz and ballroom dance), showing that together they can perform the heck out of any movement that comes their way. Just ask choreographers Wynn Fricke, Mariusz Olszewski, Morgan Thorson and Netta Yerushalmy, all of whom created impressive new works in 2012 for the troupe, led by Linda Z. Andrews.


Never better

Whether it was Rock the Garden, Soundset or First Avenue, rapper P.O.S. stole the show from anyone who dared touch the mike. He capped it off with "We Don't Even Live Here," a visionary album exploding with anti-everything angst and a futuristic dance soundtrack. It wasn't just the best local album of 2012, but an all-time classic. And he did it all with bad kidneys -- the illness canceling what would have been a triumphant end-of-the-year tour. A downer? Yes. But his fans responded by crowd-funding a new kidney to the tune of $25,000 in less than a week. He gave his all to create a brash, new Minneapolis Sound -- and his audience rewarded him with Minnesota Nice.


Best director

After a spell shepherding August Wilson's works to Broadway, Tony nominee Marion McClinton returned home to the Twin Cities to show us his gifts. He directed two memorable productions this year: Tarell Alvin McCraney's "The Brothers Size" and "Buzzer," both for Pillsbury House Theatre. McClinton also worked at Park Square, investing his shows with his signature musical sensibility and lyricism.


Mr. Versatile

Twin Cities audiences have savored Raye Birk's emotional depth for many years. This year, he hit the trifecta of an intimate and idiosyncratic portrait in "The Last Word" at Minnesota Jewish Theatre, a big comic triumph in "The Sunshine Boys" at the Guthrie and one of the great Shakespeare roles in "King Lear" at Park Square. It is always worthwhile to watch Birk, an actor so articulate in understanding nuance and human psychology.


Breakout performer

Chicago is trying to claim the talents of Namir Smallwood, who has acted at Steppenwolf and other Windy City venues, but the Twin Cities had him first. Smallwood showed his protean talents this year with estimable performances in "Buzzer," which will be revived this spring, and "The Brothers Size." Whether playing a gadget-distracted black lawyer who returns with two white friends to live in his old neighborhood ("Buzzer") or a fresh-out-of-jail, troubled younger sibling ("Brothers Size"), he delivered like a natural, claiming the audience's full attention as he essayed the quicksilver conflicts and subtleties of his characters.


The creative voice

A successful choral performance requires more than impeccable sound and musicianship. Creative programming is also essential. That has always been a strong suit of the choral group Cantus, but never more so than with last spring's "The Singing Revolution: Songs of the Baltic Awakening," their powerful musical documentation of the peaceful revolution that liberated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the Soviet Union.


Comic book hero

Cartoonist Tom Kaczynski started 2012 with a lofty new goal of making a name for other comic-book artists. From an attic studio in south Minneapolis, his fledging company, Uncivilized Books, released comics star Gabrielle Bell's "The Voyeurs" to national acclaim. He closed out the year by focusing on his own work: comics powerhouse Fantagraphics released Kaczynski's long-awaited "Beta Testing the Apocalypse." The book is an investigation of philosophy, sci-fi and post-modern ideas -- all intersecting on a multi-paneled, hand-drawn page. When it comes to comics, this guy can do it all.


The secret is out

With the bells tolling louder for record labels, Minneapolis upstart Secret Stash Records enjoyed a breakout year by going against the digital grain. Its vinyl editions of long-out-of-print records by everyone from '70s Ghanaian star K Frimpong to Georgia soul singer Mickey Murray made the label a favorite of collectors. It applied that same amount of care to a first-ever two-LP compilation of mostly rug-swept hometown R&B stars, "Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul (1964-1979)." What's "lost" was found to be unforgettable.