Stillwater High grad Zach Sobiech’s story is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming, and his tune sounded pretty sweet on the radio. The 18-year-old budding songwriter died in May of a rare form of cancer called osteosarcoma. That same week, his bright, hopeful song “Clouds” — a farewell to family and friends recast as a downloadable charity single — started its ascent of the Billboard and iTunes charts following an earlier reign on YouTube. With widespread radio and media support, it eventually raised $750,000 (and counting) for Zach’s Children’s Cancer Research Fund via local nonprofit Rock the Cause. “Clouds” not only kept Zach’s memory alive, it might actually save lives.
Filling voids with art
Where others see abandoned storefronts, the indefatigable Joan Vorderbruggen spies opportunity. A nurse by profession and an artist by passion, Vorderbruggen has led efforts to install the work of local artists in the empty windows of blighted pockets of commercial real estate from Whittier in south Minneapolis to downtown’s Block E. A bubbling brook of creativity and enthusiasm, she embraces what could be seen as thankless tasks and spins them into an uplifting experience for property owners, artists and passersby. Her newest project, in collaboration with curator Jaime Carrera, is Cineteca, a collection of locally made short films that will flicker around the clock on 40-inch screens placed inside Whittier windows.
When in ‘Doubt’
This was a year when much of the news out of the classical music world was fractious and grim. In the midst, though, the Minnesota Opera started 2013 with the world premiere of “Doubt,” by Douglas Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley, who adapted his Pulitzer-winning play. The company’s emphasis on new work continued this year with the announcement that “The Shining” has been commissioned from librettist Mark Campbell and Pulitzer-winning composer Paul Moravec. That was on top of a new opera version of “The Manchurian Candidate,” which is in progress toward a 2014-15 debut. The opera has become a national leader in mounting new work.
They had every right to sell out and cash in on their highly revered but never high-paying legacy with the Replacements, but Minneapolis rock heroes Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson played the reunion card in 2013 like a couple of spit-grinning poker sharks. They didn’t do interviews, kept fans guessing and waiting for more dates, printed up T-shirts with the middle finger on them and even took to social media to mess with expectations. In the end, their revamped band only played three sets at the punk-rocky RiotFests in Toronto, Chicago and Denver instead of more marquee cities/events (never mind the all-too-obvious hometown gig). When they finally laid their cards down, though, they weren’t bluffing.
A museum’s best friend
When Walker Art Center needed to replace the 314,000 bricks that wrapped its original 1971 home, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, it hired HGA architect John Cook to oversee the $8 million job. No one could have done it better. An ace problem solver, Cook worked on the Weisman Art Museum and its expansion, the Walker’s 2005 Herzog & de Meuron addition, and collaborated with his wife, Joan Soranno, on the Lakewood Garden Mausoleum that made her our 2012 Artist of the Year. He fretted every re-bricking detail from the metallic glaze and expansion joints to the corners that had to be redesigned because the building grew by 2⅝ inches on each side when new insulation was added behind the bricks. “It was like putting on an extra sweater; the building got fatter,” Cook said.
Setting books in motion
With his “Books in Action” initiative, Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach is leading the charge to think outside the covers, so to speak. Coffee House Press has established residencies that place poets and artists in libraries; they’ve donated more than 6,000 books to Little Free Libraries; they’ve commissioned a dozen artists to create works based on Andy Sturdevant’s collection of essays; they’ve established Ring Ring Poetry, which put poems by local writers just a phone call away. Sometimes, these initiatives led to physical books (“The Artist’s Library” will be published in the spring), but to Fischbach the ephemeral is just as crucial.