Arts presenters in the Twin Cities had an extra reason to cheer the passing of the immigration bill in the Senate last week. The bill contained a provision, the ARTS Act, that specifically addresses greasing the skids on visa processing for artists visiting from other countries. Post- 9/11, several indiviudals and groups have either been denied visas or missed their scheduled performance dates due to more stringent and complicated application processes.
Organizations affected have included First Avenue, which last month had to postpone a Tricky concert for the second time in three years, as well as Walker Art Center, Children's Theater Co. and Cedar Cultural Center.
Philip Bither, who oversees performing arts at the Walker, said that the process involved in getting some international artists here can be “costly, labor intensive and very prolonged” including sending desperate pleas to members of Congress at all hours of the night while artists nervously wait in U.S. embassies abroad. He cited Congolese street musicians Staff Benda Bilili, which the Walker was to have copresented at the Cedar in 2011, as an example of a show lost due to visa problems.
Rob Simonds of the Cedar said he was happy to see Congress addressing the issue, and that “it’s a first good step,” but emphasized that simply delaying a visa rather than outright denying one can have the same result, as was the case for a show featuring London-based Somali singer Aar Maanta in 2011 (it was rescheduled).
The immigration bill faces a steeper battle in the House, so the ARTS Act provision remains in limbo.