Appreciated for his collaborative style, HGA architect Tim Carl long has been the go-to guy for designing culture venues, including the 2014 renovation of Northrop auditorium, Macalester College’s redo of Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center and the green-roofed addition to the American Swedish Institute that transformed Minneapolis’ favorite castle. His new concert hall at St. Paul’s Ordway Center won raves for its trim design and lively acoustics. All that good work, plus a new performing arts center for St. Paul Academy and Summit School, helped earn Carl a new job as chief executive of HGA’s Minneapolis office.
Tough guy of the year
We’ve finally landed a fella for Mary Richards. The best way to celebrate her iconic statue’s return to Nicollet Mall is to partner her with the ideal companion: Minnesota state trooper Lou Solverson, a cross between Dirty Harry and Dudley Do-Right, with hot-dish crumbs on his perfect upper lip. As portrayed by Patrick Wilson in the spectacular second season of TV’s “Fargo,” Solverson went above the call of duty as TV’s most admirable enforcer, standing up to big-city mobsters while tending to his cancer-ridden wife and suffering stoically with memories from the Vietnam War. No citizen, real or not, did more to give our state a reason to swell with pride.
The comeback Babes
Whatever you thought of their imperfect but intense hometown performance at Rock the Garden in June, you have to applaud Babes in Toyland’s comeback story when you consider everything the influential Minneapolis punk trio came back from: near career-ending injuries, addictions, mental illness, personal trauma and inter-band animosity. Since ending their 14-year hiatus in February, singer/guitarist Kat Bjelland and drummer Lori Barbero delivered full-throttle, all-roar versions of their physically grueling songs over 40 tour dates on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of their best receptions were at cool indie fests such as Chicago’s RiotFest and Austin’s Fun Fun Fun. They parted ways with bassist Maureen Herman along the way but kept their mojo, and are carrying on into 2016 with dates including a long-awaited return to First Avenue Jan. 30.
Fresh face, big talent
Teenage actor Johannah Easley grew up artistically in small companies such as Journey Productions and the Art of Dance. But she busted into the big time this year playing the title speller in “Akeelah and the Bee,” which opened at Children’s Theatre before transferring to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Easley cast a spell of her own as the Washington Post noted her “sunbeam spirit.”
What, I’m funny?
Twin Cities novelist and professor Julie Schumacher was best known for her poignant novel “The Body Is Water” and her socially conscious novels for young adults. That is, until this year’s “Dear Committee Members,” a novel told through a series of letters of recommendations by a professor of creative writing. It won Schumacher the Thurber Prize for American Humor, beating renowned cartoonist Roz Chast and comic actress Annabelle Gurwitch. Schumacher had not set out to write a funny novel — a witty one, maybe, but not laugh-out-loud funny — and the award came as a surprise. “I’m not a funny person, really,” she told a reporter. Readers across the country would beg to differ.
Talent spotters plundered Twin Cities organizations this year. They plucked longtime Walker Art Center design chief Andrew Blauvelt to be director of the Cranbrook Art Museum outside Detroit. They raided the Soap Factory, whose director, Ben Heywood, left to run Pivot Art + Culture, a new Seattle venue funded by tech billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Then Italy snared Eike Schmidt, the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s sculpture and decorative arts curator, to be director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the world’s grandest art collections.
The long goodbye
Before he exited, stage left, in his final public appearance as Guthrie artistic director, Joe Dowling directed three terrific productions — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” his last Shakespeare; “The Crucible,” his last Arthur Miller, and “Juno and the Paycock,” the show that introduced him to the United States many years ago. All were muscular, broad shows that illustrated Dowling’s eye for big performances. After guiding the theater for 20 years and overseeing construction of the big blue complex on the river in Minneapolis, he could not have gone out on a better note. His next production, “Othello,” will be this spring — back home at the Abbey in Dublin.
Good taste in friends
The musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are cool kids in classical school, so it’s no surprise they’ve attracted some exciting foreign-exchange pals. This year the SPCO’s artistic partners program added flamboyant violinist Pekka Kuusisto, rock-star clarinetist Martin Fröst and dynamic pianist Jeremy Denk to a roster that included violin stars Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Thomas Zehetmair and pianist Christian Zacharias. These boldface names, plus the new tailor-made performance hall, made 2015 a banner year for the country’s only full-time chamber orchestra.
Known for being mysterious and a little difficult, Minnesota’s two biggest music stars were surprisingly open in 2015. Bob Dylan spoke at length to AARP magazine about his new album of Frank Sinatra covers and gave his longest public speech ever at a Grammy salute, where he explained his inspirations and acknowledged folks who helped him (or dissed him). Prince opened his Paisley Park studios to journalists, gave away music on Spotify, performed private shows for the Obamas and the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and spoke out about the Black Lives Matter movement, at the Grammy Awards ceremony and in song.
Good to be the boss
Kevin Smith’s first year as president of the Minnesota Orchestra could hardly have gone better. The institution is stable; fundraising has reached record levels; the band has recovered its sound, and the historic trip to Cuba was a brilliant success. Bruce Coppock, who is retiring from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, also has his ensemble energized again after a labor lockout. And at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Kaywin Feldman presided over a centennial year that saw record attendance, record fundraising and weekly surprises including masterpieces from Van Gogh, Vermeer and Raphael. Good work.