Catalyst Arts is a new offshoot of Intermedia Arts, the Minneapolis arts organization that suspended operations last fall and listed its Lyn-Lake building for sale.
The initiative was named for Intermedia’s Catalyst Series, a platform for artists and their socially engaged theater, dance, music, film, literature and more. Catalyst Arts was founded by actor Shá Cage, the series’ former curator, along with former Intermedia staff who hope to carry forth a mission of supporting art and activism.
Currently housed at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis, the Catalyst team plans to present a diverse range of shows similar to those seen at Intermedia through the years — but with a renewed focus on supporting marginalized artists (especially LGBTQ and artists of color). A recent Catalyst event featured Japanese dance duo Kaori Seki and Masashi Koyama performing alongside Minnesotans including theater artist Masanari Kawahara and members of Shapeshift Dance.
We reached Cage on the West Coast, where she’s performing in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of “Familiar” by Danai Gurira. She took a break to share her hopes for the Minneapolis arts and activism upstart. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Congratulations on getting Catalyst Arts off the ground. It must be both scary and exciting.
A: [Laughs.] Yeah, absolutely. There’s some anxiety to starting something completely new, but in many ways it’s not new. It’s a continuation.
Q: You’re calling this initial season “Still Here.” That seems like an apt title. Just in the past year, the Twin Cities have lost Intermedia Arts. Patrick’s Cabaret is closing. And Bedlam closed not too long ago. What does it mean to say, “we are still here”?
A: Initially we were confronting the reality that some people saw the collapse of Intermedia and thought everything’s gone, everything’s over. And that was true to some degree, but there were many of us who were still organizing and still coming together to figure out what we wanted to continue.
I think — just to me personally — [the title] speaks to our strength and our resilience.
Q: What are your initial takeaways from losing all these venues?
A: Space is such a big issue, especially for marginalized artists, people of color and LGBTQ. … Where do some of these people who are working outside the mainstream go for space and support? We’ve got to remember that marginalized artists don’t have big dollars to spend on renting spaces. There are spaces, but they are expensive.
I think it all begs the question: How do we confront this? If we don’t confront the issue together, organizations will continue to fall. Not just organizations but collectives that are seeking space, trying to build projects.
Q: Let’s talk about the art and activism focus, which was so important to Intermedia. Is that something you’re planning to hone with Catalyst Arts?
A: Yeah, absolutely. Activism and social justice work is at the core of everything we do. Even though our logo is new, we kept the old slogan from Intermedia: “Art changes everything.” We are trying to build an army of artists and communities who are strong, who are powerful. If their building is taken away, they will continue without a doubt.
Q: You’re in Seattle right now. You’ve been working a lot at the Guthrie, where you recently performed in “Familiar.” You’re hot as a performer right now. I can’t imagine you’re earning much for this work with Catalyst. How can you keep going? How can you make it be sustainable?
A: It’s one of the areas that people don’t always think about, especially in times of crisis. They think — how do we keep it going? They forget about the humans who also need to sustain themselves. I have to be equally sensitive to the team I’ve put together. I can’t ask people to work for free, either, because that’s one of our equity values.
I’m so blessed — knocking on wood — that I have employment through next year. That can subsidize some of the dreaming. I know that’s not sustainable, but in a time of crisis, we all open up our pocketbooks.
Q: So Catalyst is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Where does it go from here?
A: I always like to say there’s nowhere else to go but up. The more layered answer is I think we are expanding outward in a way that is super-exciting. ... We are headed in a direction that wants to be strategic, without reinventing the wheel. I think that means figuring out where our funding source is, naming our community and also figuring out what it means to serve that community in the best way.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.