For the first time in 45 years, there will be no MayDay Parade in south Minneapolis next spring.
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, the nonprofit that puts on the puppet-packed parade and Powderhorn Park celebration, announced Wednesday night that it will take a year off to remake the rite of spring — improving it for artists and audiences of color.
"It is increasingly clear to me that it is just not possible to produce the MayDay that people have come to know and love and at the same time, do the work to change it," said Corrie Zoll, Heart of the Beast's executive director. "So if what we can do in the next year is either produce MayDay or redesign MayDay, this is a choice to redesign MayDay."
The nonprofit, which stages — and most years subsidizes — the event, first announced in January that the parade had become too big to stage on its own. It cut staff and shaved programs.
The decision goes beyond a year's worth of funding. This year's parade, held on a sunny Sunday in May, "was a wild success" that netted a $50,000 surplus, the nonprofit said. Instead, this break is meant to address bigger, structural issues — including the parade's history of marginalizing and appropriating artists of color, Zoll said.
"The first word that comes to mind is gratitude," said Minneapolis artist and author Junauda Petrus-Nasah. By taking a year off, Heart of the Beast is showing that it wants to do the "big, healing work" needed to transform. As a black, queer artist, Petrus-Nasah said she has experienced firsthand how the MayDay Parade "hadn't genuinely made itself safe for people who aren't liberal in a white, South Side kind of way. ... There's a lot of work to be done around the soul and identity of this space that goes beyond mission statements."
Artists, volunteers and longtime parade-goers heard the news Wednesday at a meeting at the theater's home, the Avalon Theatre on Lake Street. They asked questions. They took deep breaths.
"I do feel it is unwise for MayDay to disappear for one year," said Theresa Linnihan, an artist who worked on the this year's event.
"You have to keep the connection with the public," she added after the meeting. "Without that gift to the public, something is missing. There's a terrible loss."
Linnihan encouraged Heart of the Beast to consider opening the theater's doors on the first Sunday in May.
This year, about 75,000 people attended the parade and ceremony, up 25% from last year's record, while donations doubled to $60,000.
But most years, the event loses money. In recent months, Heart of the Beast has been working with St. Paul-based consulting firm Imagine Deliver to determine how the scrappy arts nonprofit could survive, along with its home and its signature event.
They focused on "artists who, frankly, have felt shut out of the MayDay process," Zoll said. "MayDay is so big and everything happens so quickly that it relies on ways of doing things that have sometimes been done for decades." That timeline, he said, "effectively shuts out new voices."
Through a survey, meetings and dozens of interviews, the nonprofit has gotten feedback from about 500 people. Next, it will convene a MayDay Council to fashion a new process for the event, figure out how to best use the building and make other plans. Nominations for that group will be open until Oct. 24.
Petrus-Nasah is one half of Free Black Dirt, an artistic duo that will help lead Heart of the Beast through next steps. Petrus-Nasah fell in love with MayDay as a kid growing up in the Phillips neighborhood. She served as a staff artist in 2015, '16 and '17, joining the event during a critical moment for the Black Lives Matter movement. For one part of the parade, based on her poem, "Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?" she envisioned grandmas wearing church hats like crowns, riding in beautiful purple Cadillacs. In describing the cars, she told the group she wanted them "pimped out."
A white woman complained, via e-mail, to one of the event organizers, Petrus-Nasah said. That was one of several examples of people being rude, she said. But she also encountered volunteers who treated her with sweetness and encouraged her ideas and her energy.
Some MayDay fans might be tempted to put together a rogue parade, Zoll acknowledged. But doing so without the nonprofit's organization, permits and infrastructure "would be a problem," he said.
"What we are asking is for our neighbors to support taking a year off," he said. Neighbors will yearn to see their neighbors, so the nonprofit might call on people to "funnel that energy in creative ways."
"But, just to be very clear," he said, "that will not look like a parade or festival on the first Sunday in May in 2020."