Hit man of the year

That piano you hear on the biggest radio ballad of the year, "Someone Like You," was played by Dan Wilson. He also co-wrote the music and words with Adele, the biggest pop-music force of 2011. You may know Wilson for singing and writing "Closing Time" with his old Minneapolis band, Semisonic. But he's an A-list songwriter now. He co-wrote three songs on Adele's "21," the biggest-selling album of 2011 -- and could win a Grammy as its co-producer -- along with six selections on Josh Groban's "Illuminations" and country star Dierks Bentley's current hit ballad, "Home." Next up: writing with the Band Perry, which is nominated for the Grammy for best new artist. --JON BREAM

Bulldog of the year

Not satisfied with the 1993 building that put the Weisman Art Museum on the international map, director Lyndel King persuaded its high-powered architects, Frank Gehry and Edwin Chen, to expand it. She inspired them with a clear vision of the museum's needs, raised $14 million and then shepherded the fast-track project through to its gala opening in October. Her 30-year tenure makes her the longest-serving art museum director in the Twin Cities. And she still radiates infectious enthusiasm for the job. --MARY ABBE

Best friend to cheapskates

Last spring, Mixed Blood Theatre's Jack Reuler announced a program called "Radical Hospitality." And radical it was. Admission for Mixed Blood shows would be free. Immediately the chattering classes were on the phone. How can we charge when Jack's giving it away for free? How can he afford to lose that revenue? And how will Mixed Blood's little lobby handle all those people? Well, it's December and the theater's September staging and three-show November festival (!) went off well. Reuler has brought in younger, more diverse audiences and Mixed Blood has managed the crowds beautifully. --GRAYDON ROYCE

Best reason to claim western Wisconsin

Still calling Eau Claire, Wis., home, Justin Vernon has close enough ties to the Twin Cities for his 2011 success to ripple over into the local scene. The falsetto-pushing singer/songwriter better known as Bon Iver followed up his 2008 debut "For Emma, Forever Ago" -- and added to the buzz off his high-profile stint on Kanye West's last record -- with a tastefully electronified but still hauntingly personal eponymous record. It earned him four Grammy nominations, including record and best new artist of the year, and was named best of 2011 by indie tastemaker blog Pitchfork.com. When the Grammys and Pitchfork agree on something ...--CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

Best clarinetist whose boss is a clarinetist

Principal clarinet of the Minnesota Orchestra for nearly a quarter-century, Burt Hara labors under the watchful ear of Osmo Vänskä, but if Hara -- who's been scouted by bands including the New York Philharmonic -- feels pressured, it doesn't show: He just keeps getting better. In December's Chamber Music Society of Minnesota concert, his account of "Abyss of the Birds" in Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" -- the solo to end all solos -- was a thing of wonder. --LARRY FUCHSBERG

Mr. Everywhere

You couldn't turn around this year without bumping into Kevin Kling. His first children's book, "Big Little Brother" (illustrated by "Violet Days" comic-strip artist Chris Monroe), was a huge hit. He signed with Minnesota Public Radio to be artist-in-residence at the Fitzgerald Theater for three years. He co-starred in "Of Mirth and Mischief" at the Fitz, headlined "Joy: A Cabaret" at Interact, wrote and performed "A Tale of Twin Cities" at History Theater, did his annual holiday show at the Guthrie, told stories at the Jewish Community Center's used-book sale, attended storytelling festivals across the country, and generally made the rest of us look like schlumps. --LAURIE HERTZEL

Leadership award

The December announcement, though not unexpected, was nonetheless a stunner in light of the tough economic climate: The Ordway Center and its tenant partners said they'd raised two-thirds of the $75 million needed to build and endow a new concert hall for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The SPCO's new leader, Sarah Lutman, and Ordway president Pat Mitchell deserve kudos for steering (and fund-raising) well. We can't wait to hear the SPCO in what we hope will be an acoustically superior hall for its intimate brand of music. --CLAUDE PECK

Purplest Heart

The official end of the Iraq war concluded a decade of hostilities, but won't necessarily heal the soldiers who fought it. Minnesota photographer Monica Haller's Veterans Book Project aims to start that healing process by helping veterans transform their diaries, letters, photos and other memorabilia into journal-like books. About 30 have been published to date. The project was the emotional centerpiece of shows at Franklin Art Works and IFP Minnesota (up through Jan. 7) and is featured at the Nomas Foundation in Rome (through Feb. 23). --MARY ABBE

Most valuable teammates

Great indie-movie towns like Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., rise on a tide of collective energy. So it was that hopes for the Twin Cities film scene were lifted by the modest success of "Stuck Between Stations," hatched by a team of homegrown talents including director Brady Kiernan, screenwriter Nat Bennett and star/co-writer Sam Rosen. A charming, picaresque account of one couple's journey through a Minneapolis night, "the film could serve as a calling card for everybody involved," the trade bible Variety wrote last spring. Indeed, "Stations" -- still playing at the St. Anthony Main -- holds great promise for a creative cabal dedicated to building a career here. --TIM CAMPBELL

Fastest feet in town

Rhythmic Circus certainly lives up to its name. Of late, the homegrown percussive dance troupe featuring Nick Bowman, Ricci Milan, Kaleena Miller, Eddie Strachan and Galen Higgins has juggled cross-country touring for its electrifying show "Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" with enough local stops to earn two 2011 Sage Dance Awards. Backed by a live band always ready to bring the furious funk, these artists never seem to miss a beat while tapping, shuffling, snapping and stomping their way into everyone's hearts. --CAROLINE PALMER

Hippest bureaucrat

Awkwardly referred to as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's "liaison to the arts" in years past, Joe Spencer can now officially be called "champion of the arts" in the capital city. His influence lingered all summer in Mears Park, which he helped fill with the Twin Cities Jazz and Concrete & Grass fests, as well as the Music in Mears series. He was instrumental in creating the hipster trifecta of the Amsterdam Bar & Hall (live music and beer), Eclipse Records (old-school vinyl) and Big Table (poster art) on a vacancy-plagued busy corner of downtown. Next summer, he can gloat a little more about the just-announced Live Nation festival headed for Harriet Island. Meanwhile, Minneapolis staff is still stuck behind the Aquatennial. --CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

Most unforgettable on stage

Twice in 2011, Dennis Spears slicked back his hair and climbed into those elegant suits that Nat King Cole wore so well in the 1950s. In "I Wish You Love" at the Penumbra Theatre, Spears captured a man whose gorgeous voice and endurance in the face of bigotry still inspires us. With the weight of the world seemingly on his shoulders, Spears gave an aching and eloquent reading of "Smile," channeled the great man's verve in "Route 66" and found the deep soul in the title song. He was, as Cole used to sing, "Unforgettable." --GRAYDON ROYCE

Maddest DJ

Where Jake Rudh goes, dance floors follow. The DJ brought his retro sounds (and love of TV's "Mad Men") to parties everywhere -- museums, libraries, restaurants, neighborhood bars, rock clubs. He started the year off with a bang, celebrating 10 years of Transmission, his weekly New Wave dance night at tiny Clubhouse Jäger, by bringing it to First Avenue, where he blew the roof off that storied club. Gigs just blossomed from there, turning Rudh into a true tastemaker. Not surprisingly, the Current offered him a weekly radio slot. Now even more people can groove to his love of Britpop, post-punk and the ilk. --TOM HORGEN