Cultures & immigration beat: Lao artists renaissance has roots in the metro

  • Article by: Allie Shah
  • Star Tribune
  • August 14, 2012 - 6:24 PM

This has always been an arts lovin' place.

So it makes sense that Minnesota would become the birthplace for an artistic renaissance currently underway in the Lao American community.

According to the latest census data, Minnesota's Lao population is 12,000 strong.

From poets to weavers to dancers and musicians, a slew of artists who first arrived in the 1970s as refugees from Laos have settled here and, along the way, they've come into their own as acclaimed artists.

Their accomplishments recently captured the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton, who issued a certificate recognizing the contributions Lao Minnesotan artists have made to the local, national and international scene.

"As the third largest Lao populated state, Minnesota recognizes the significance of the dedication and performance of these artists," Dayton wrote.

The recognition comes at a good time, say Lao Minnesota artists, as they are gearing up to host the National Lao American Writers Summit in August 2013.

"We see it as a launch pad for the next 12 months, as we'll be mobilizing an appreciation for Lao artists," said Bryan Thao Worra, a Minneapolis-based author of five books.

Earlier this month, his poetry was included in the Festival of the World event, a celebration of poetry that coincided with the Summer Olympics in London.

Each nation in the Olympics was represented by one poet at the Festival of the World. Worra represented Laos.

In addition to Worra, other noteworthy local artists with ties to Laos include: Saymoukda Vongsay, an award-winning spoken-word artist; painter Mali Kouanchao, a Bush Artist Fellow; and Bounxou Chanthraphone, known for her preservation and advancement of Lao traditional weaving.

The Lao artist renaissance has even sparked other forms of, ahem, artistic expression, most notably in the blogosphere.

Consider this popular blog started here: "Little Laos on the Prairie."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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