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Robb Asklof as The Dancing Master and Kelly Kaduce as Manon Lescaut in the Minnesota Opera production of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" last month. Photo by Mikal Daniel.
It hasn't been the greatest week for classical music in America, but the MInnesota Opera can't complain. As the Minnesota Orchestra's woes continue and the 70-year-old New York City Opera closed its doors for good, Minnesota Opera received two six-figure grants within several days of each other.
On Tuesday, the opera announced a $100,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. The money will be used to simulcast the opening-night performances of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons at Landmark Plaza, free and open to the public. A previous grant from Knight in 2011 enabled the company to develop more sophisticated HD capture for broadcasting.
Last week, the opera announced a different grant for the same $100,000 amount from the Hearst Foundation. That grant is earmarked for education and community outreach.
Bucking a national trend in audience decline for opera companies, Minnesota Opera has had steady attendance and last year recorded an 11-year high in subscription sales, said marketing and communications director Lani WIllis.
The cast of "Elemeno Pea," a play staged earlier this year by Mixed Blood Theatre, which received a $100,000 NEA grant. Photo by Bruce Bisping.
While funding for the National Endowment for the the Arts goes through a legislative tug of war between the pro- and con-NEA factions of Congress, this year's belt-tighteners on the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a staggering decrease -- 49%, or virtually half of the $146 million currently allotted.
An amendment to restore the funding was defeated along a party-line vote of 19-27, and discussion has now been suspended until mid-September.
"What usually happens is, the House proposes a cut, the Senate proposes an increase, and then there's a compromise later," said Sheila Smith, director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.
Minnesota is often among the top ten states in total NEA monies received. This year, it ranked eighth, with 28 grantees including Mixed Blood Theatre, Northern Spark and Graywolf Press receiving $877,500, an increase of more than $100,000 from the previous year.
If enacted, the proposed cut would be the largest in NEA history. That record is currently held by fiscal year 1995-96, when $162 million was slashed to $99 million. Beginning in 1967 with $2.9 million, the annual NEA appropriation peaked in 1993 at $176 million.
"The appropriations process is a mess and it's very likely they'll have to resort to a continuing resolution, but including this cut in formal committee legislation makes it a real threat," said Narric Rome, director of federal affairs for Americans for the Arts. The last time a large cut made it that far was in the early 1990s, he said.
"We usually have defeated these big cuts, but the world is an unpredictable place," Smith said. MCA is urging pro-arts voters to contact their legislators.
Orchestra management last December had pledged to sequester its fiscal 2013 grant from the state until a contract was reached with locked-out musicians. There is still no deal, so when the state’s fiscal year ended on Saturday, the funds were returned. Grants cannot be carried over to new fiscal periods.
In June, the Office of the Legislative Auditor reviewed the orchestra’s use of public money and determined that between 2010 and 2013, all state funds were used appropriately, including $14 million in bonding for a renovation of Orchestra Hall. The report also indicated the orchestra and arts board should negotiate on the question of whether any of the 2013 grant could be applied to general operations. It appears that none of the grant was allowed.
The orchestra’s board and musicians started contract negotiations 14 months ago. Talks broke off on Sept. 30 and musicians were locked out the following day. Since then, there has been one formal bargaining session, in early January.
Management’s original proposal was to cut minimum salaries by 32 percent. Musicians have not offered a counter. The musicians have said they will not return to bargaining unless the lockout is lifted. Management has refused that demand.
McKnight Fellowships are intended, in part, to challenge artists to try new materials, explore new concepts and test their mettle against the unknown. The four ceramicists whose work is on view through July 7 at the Northern Clay Center made splendid use of the opportunities afforded by their McKnight support.
Brian Boldon and Ursula Hargens received McKnight fellowships in 2012; Edith Garcia and Janet Williams had McKnight residencies to work at the center for serveral months in 2011. Their four-person show offers an excellent sample of contemporary ceramic sculpture ranging in scale from Garcia's doll-sized modernist figures to Boldon's room-sized installation. Conceptually it encompases Hargens' beautiful ceramic alphabets and Williams' ethereal landscape collages mapped on graph paper and boldly sketched in porcelain and wire.
Brian Boldon's work is dramatically installed in a midnight blue gallery that compliments his steel, aluminum, rubber and stoneware sculptures whose surfaces are imprinted with digital photos of cattails and rice grass. Taken at dusk just as the landscape around his northern Wisconsin cabin disappeared into blackness, the photos were sharply illuminated by flashlights that make the grasses stand out against the night sky. He later transfer-printed the images onto rectangular ceramic cylinders that are threaded onto steel pipes. Thanks to Boldon's keen design sense, the sculptures retain their poetry despite a remarkable amount of technical manipulation, and the installation is mesmerizingly beautiful.
Ursula Hargens' handsome ceramic alphabet seems disarmingly childlike, a grid of tile-like letters and numbers each about a foot tall. They appear to be glazed in random colors -- rose, brown, French blue, lemon yellow. But there is more to her earthenware alphabet than meets the casual eye. She has, as she explains in a gallery placard, a neurological condition that inherently associates colors and letters. Called color-grapheme synesthesia, her linkage is not a simple "P = pink" system but a more arbitrary yet persistent tie in which, for example, S = orange/yellow. From that starting point she has created tiles with various linguisitic connections, some with letters excised from flora designs, others combining colors and letters in what she calls a "Mash-up." The results are both beautiful and conceptually fascinating.
Janet Williams incorporates personal information -- her fingerprint -- into computer-assisted line drawings that suggest airy maps of imaginary landscapes. Pushing the technology, she creates topographical sculptures consisting of dozens of tabs of glazed clay that are imprinted with her fingerprints and attached by monofilament wires to an overhead frame. Suspended in semi-circles at different heights, the tabs appear to form in mid-air a topographical image of an imaginary mountain.
Since completing her BFA at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1998, Edith Garcia worked and exhibited in many locales before settling in London. Her doll-sized androgynous figures hang on the wall but seem to be performers in enigmatic little dramas of non-communication. Though their actions and expressions are inscrutible, they are strangely compelling characters whose silence speaks louder than words.
Edith Garcia "Constant, Same and Forever" (detail)
Artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken is organizing a three-week, cross-country culture tour via train that's booked to arrive in the Twin Cities on September 12. The train will travel from New York City to San Francisco making 10 stops en route.
Called "Station to Station," the project aims to launch a "revolutionary endowment model" to fund new art programs and "creative collisions" in 2014. The money from ticket sales and donations is expected to go to partner institutions, including most likely Walker Art Center which is a supporter of the program.
"This is a fast moving cultural journey," Aitken said in a statement forwarded by the Walker. Describing the endeavor in existential terms that curiously echo the title of a famous Gauguin painting, Aitken continued, "Who are we? Where are we going? And, at this moment, how can we express ourselves? -- our intention is to create a modern cultural manifesto."
He expects the train to be a moving "cultural studio" that will broadcast content and experiences at its stops and while moving. Aitken has enlisted an A list of avant garde talent as participants including artists Kenneth Anger, Olaf Breuning, Peter Coffin, Urs Fischer, Meschac Gaba, Liz Glynn, Carsten Holler, Christian Jankowski, Aaron Koblin, Ernesto Neto, Jack Pierson, Stephen Shore, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Lawrence Weiner; musicians Dan Deacon, Eleanor Friedberger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, Nite Jewel, No Age, Ariel Pink, Savages, and Twin Shadow; writers Dave Hickey, Barney Hoskyns, and Rick Moody; and chefs Alice Waters and Leif Hedendal, and the Edible Schoolyard Project. More participants are expected to sign on before the wheels roll.
Besides the Walker, supporting institutions include MoMA PS1, Carnegie Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, SITE Santa Fe, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The Levi's brand is a collaborator. After the train trip ends, Aitken expects to continue the project via museum programs, a documentary and a book.
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