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Minneapolis curator Heywood to run Paul Allen's new Pivot Art + Culture in Seattle

Ben Heywood posed in "Pledge Project," a 2014 installation at the Soap Factory. Photo by Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Former Minneapolis art curator Ben Heywood will head Pivot Art + Culture, a new non-profit announced Friday in Seattle by Paul G. Allen, art collector and Microsoft co-founder. Heywood was hired last month by Allen's private company, Vulcan, but neither his duties nor his new title were stated then.

Pivot Art + Culture will be a 4,000 square foot, two room gallery located in the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a research facility that the venture capitalist and philanthropist is developing on the edge of downtown Seattle in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Scheduled to open in December, it is intended to be a cultural magnet in an area known as a tech and bio-medical hub.

"It's a marvelous job and I'm extremely excited about it," Heywood said, adding. "Allen is a great guy with extremely deep pockets and I think we can do some very exciting things here."

Heywood is still developing Pivot's program but said it will combine pieces from Allen's collection with the kind of experimental art that he worked with at The Soap Factory, the unconventional Minneapolis visual and performing arts space he ran for nearly 13 years prior to taking the Seattle job.

"It will combine alternative programming with traditional museum practices," Heywood said. "We want to produce exhibitions that people like and enjoy that also have great artistic integrity."

The Soap Factory recently named David Fey as interim executive director while it launches a search for Heywood's successor. Fey is a Senior Consultant with Cincinnatus, an advisor to nonprofit organizations, with experience in leadership transitions.

With a personal fortune estimated at $17.5 billion, Allen has the means to indulge his interests in sports (he owns the Seattle Seahawks football team and the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team) and art. In the past 25 years he has donated more than $100 million to arts and culture organizations while amassing a 300 piece private art collection that ranges from a 1625 painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger to a contemporary "spot" painting by Damien Hurst.

Forty landscape paintings from his collection will be shown in "Seeing Nature," opening October 10 at the Portland Art Museum. The show, which includes masterpieces by J. M W. Turner, Claude Monet and Gustav Klimt, will travel to Washington, D. C., New Orleans and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts next year before closing at the Seattle Art Museum in early 2017.

Allen's company, Vulcan, also is a chief sponsor of the Seattle Art Fair.

St. Paul-based 'Wits' on MPR is canceled, live shows on hold

Paul F. Tompkins (left) and John Moe enjoy golden days of "Wits."/ Photo provided by APM

The future of Minnesota Public Radio just got a little murkier.

Less than a week after Garrison Keillor confirmed that he'd be leaving "Prairie Home Companion," American Public Media announced that it was canceling the radio version of "Wits," while putting the podcast and live shows on hold. APM, based in St. Paul, produces both shows.

"I'm devastated at the loss of our radio show and, frankly, I feel like I've let people down," wrote creator and host John Moe as part of a flurry of tweets he sent out Monday morning.

The decision comes on the heels of Minnesota Public Radio eliminating 11 positions from its newsroom.

"Wits," which launched locally in 2010, had been picked up by over a hundred markets across the country with hopes that its blend of music and comedy would attract younger viewers to public radio. While only 13 percent of MPR members are under 35, one of every four new members is coming from that demographic.

In a 2014 Star Tribune story about “Wits,” APM and NPR’s chief operating officer, Dave Kansas, stressed the importance of reaching millennials. “Assuming younger audiences will come along like their parents did is a very dangerous assumption,” he said. “You have to be very intentional.”

Guests had included Zach Galifianakis, Patton Oswalt and "Weird Al" Yankovic.
As of last year, “Wits” had failed to turn a profit. The show is primarily taped at the Fitzgerald Theater, but was hitting the road more and more in the past year in hopes of attracting a wider audience. Moe confirmed that there will be no more stage shows this fall.
"We considered it successful and thank fans who made it what it was," said Meggan Ellingboe, an APM spokesperson. "Looking at resources and time, we’re trying to refocus on projects that are more financially sustainable. We're taking a hiatus to rethink how it could look down the road."
In a statement, Moe said he and his producers are looking to creating a digital "Wits 2.0" that "contains all the fun, passion and creativity you love, but at a cost and pace we can sustain better than before."

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