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River City Revue highlights the good, the bad, the ugly along the Mississippi

The River City Revue (RCR) is “an annual summer series of river tours throughout the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area organized by Works Progress Studio, the Mississippi River Fund and the National Park Service,” according to its website. And RCR isn’t shy about highlighting the dark side of living in a river city.
 
After an August 22nd canoe trip between Hastings, Minnesota and Prescott, Wisconsin, the series returns to the Padelford Riverboat in St. Paul for “Filth on the River” on September 10. That program features “performances, participatory games, and short illustrated talks on some of the filthy, debaucherous, and unseemly aspects of life on the Mississippi.”
 
The overall goal of the series is to showcase the Mississippi River’s impacts on the Twin Cities’ economy, culture and natural environment. “To me, living in a river city means thinking about our relationship to water,” says Shanai Matteson, co-director of Works Progress Studio. “Water connects and sustains us,” adds Colin Kloecker, the studio’s other co-director.
 
According to Matteson, River City Revue began in 2011 as a public art collaboration with Northern Spark. Initially planned as a one-off, the initiative was so successful that Matteson and Kloecker pushed to turn it into an annual series. As the only National Park Service-protected waterway in a major urban area, the Twin Cities’ Mississippi River frontage is a unique asset that RCR’s collaborators believe is worth celebrating.
 
Other events have included “Purity on the River,” a get-together on the Jonathan Padelford Riverboat that featured speeches, performances and material showcases from local artists and thinkers.
 
The event was a mishmash of water-themed content, including a “water bar” with flights of local tap water and “collaborative panoramic river drawing” with the MAKESH!T Collective. Other highlights included a water-themed photo showcase, a poetry reading by Mary Austin Speaker, and a discussion of “water purity and beer brewing” – always an interesting topic – that included local author Doug Hoverson and representatives from Boom Island, Bang Brewing and Indeed Brewing Company.
 
“Purity on the River” was the third of five River City Revue events and one of two riverboat cruises in the series. The first RCR event, held at the Science Museum of Minnesota on June 27, featured riverfront walking tours (which had to be modified slightly due to high water levels) and lectures from National Park Service employees and local historians.
 
The second, which launched from the Soap Factory on July 23, explored the Twin Cities’ best “fishin’ holes” and included input from local fishing experts, chefs and naturalists.
 

Design for Good/The Common Table create food systems exhibit

The AIGA Minnesota  Design for Good initiative (#designforgood), first launched nationally by AIGA in 2011, is partnering with The Common Table for a first-of-its-kind showcase at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. The exhibit will highlight the diversity of local food systems, with input from “organic farmers, farm-to-table restaurants, nonprofits working on healthy soil initiatives and other organizations involved with sustainable agricultural initiatives,” says Sandy Wolfe Wood of AIGA Minnesota.
 
Among other things, the exhibit highlights Design for Good’s commitment to “design thinking,” an “iterative problem-solving process” that “has the power to find innovative solutions to our most challenging social problems,” says Wolfe Wood.
 
Design for Good's showcase is part of The Common Table's exhibit about local food stories in the Horticulture Building at the state fairgrounds. The Common Table enlisted AIGA Minnesota and the Design for Good initiative to design the graphic and multimedia storyboards for the 18 partner organizations. These storyboards are supported by the Storytelling Pavilion, a structure designed and constructed by The Common Table team that resembles branching trees with a canopy of airy honeycombs. The exhibit is both kid and family friendly, and will remain as a permanent exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair for years to come.
 
Many of the partner organizations are based in the Twin Cities. Notables include Red Stag Supperclub, Wedge Community Co-op and Birchwood Cafe. All of them source organic and sustainably farmed produce from farms near the Twin Cities.
 
Several producers will be on hand as well, including Homestead Gardens of Welch (an innovative plot that utilized cold-climate permaculture techniques) and Moonstone Farms. Industry thought leaders from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, Environmental Justice Advocates and the Central Minnesota Sustainability Program will participate too. 
 
Design for Good has grown into a key initiative for AIGA Minnesota, which is one of the country’s largest AIGA chapters and one of the state’s largest design organizations. According to its website, Design for Good’s ongoing programming aims to build “a core group of designers interested in design for social impact...who want to be engaged with social change, who have ideas of what issues are most salient, and who can share stories of successful collaborations that have made a difference in the world.”
 
Fairgoers who aren’t affiliated with AIGA Minnesota, The Common Table or any of the exhibit’s partner organizations can still lend their time and talents to the event in exchange for free State Fair admission on the day they volunteer. The Common Table is handling volunteer scheduling here.
 

Box Fresh artfully enlivens utility boxes in Marcy-Holmes

For drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in Dinkytown and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood in Minneapolis, the view has gotten more interesting. The Box Fresh Utility Wraps Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and The Soap Factory, was unveiled July 25 and will be on view through the remainder of the summer.

The initiative paid for six artists to transform six utility boxes at high-visibility intersections. "We wanted to use this opportunity as a showcase for professional artists," many of them local, says Chris Lautenschlager of MHNA. "For well over a decade, Marcy-Holmes has conceptualized its streets as an urban gallery," he adds. As examples he points to the Moroni sculptures on 6th Avenue SE and the murals scattered around Dinkytown.

Scott Bean, whose box is at 326 6th Avenue SE, is a local resident and former instructor at the Marcy Open School. Candy Kuehn, whose work is at 327 14th Avenue SE, is a Minneapolis artist. Tony Chrenka and Christina Laskowski, a recent University of Minnesota graduate, are both former residents: Their boxes appear at 1300 4th Street SE and 100 University Avenue SE, respectively.

Though not a resident, Norbert Marklin has collaborated on various art projects with Marcy Open School staff and students. Rachel Orman is an active Marcy Open School parent and patron of the Southeast Library.

Utility boxes are bulky, ground-based assemblies located at intersections with traffic lights. "Their primary purpose is to control the nearby traffic signals," Lautenschlager says. "We chose these locations, along or near University Avenue SE and 4th Street SE, because of their maximized visibility to passing cars, bicycles and pedestrians."

According to the MHNA press release, the artwork ranges from "traditional painting to contemporary conceptual." The project had a price tag of about $12,000. The TCF Bank Stadium Good Neighbor Fund, a neighborhood improvement fund administered by the Stadium Area Advisory Group (which in turn is associated with the University District Alliance), provided $5200.

Although the MHNA had never undertaken a project like this, Lautenschlager says the organization drew inspiration from "Thinking Out of the Box," an initiative undertaken by south Minneapolis' Kingfield Neighborhood Association in 2009 and 2010.

MHNA has plans for more eye-catching street features. The MHNA recently received another Good Neighbor grant to fund a "wayfinding project" for the Dinkytown Greenway, which serves the greater U of M area. "[We'll be] adding signage that will lead to the Dinkytown Greenway and point people in the desired directions away from it," says Lautenschlager.
 

 

Social Innovation Lab plans "Deep Dive" for change agents

Social Innovation Lab, a Minneapolis-based social justice organization begun in partnership with the Bush Foundation, is holding its next "Leading Innovation Deep Dive" on September 15 and 16 at the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center on Minneapolis's North Side. The event will be one of a dozen that the organization has held in the past two years, all focused on training local employers and employees to "solve complex social challenges."

Social Innovation Lab is the brainchild of Sam Grant and Michael Bischoff, two social justice veterans who have decades of combined experience. Grant currently runs two other nonprofits, AfroEco and Full Circle Community Institute. Bischoff is Clarity Foundation's lead consultant. Bo Thao-Urabe, who is the Senior Director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and runs RedGreen Rivers (an initiative that supports female artisans), is assisting Grant and Bischoff.

The Deep Dive aims to unite decision makers and role players from diverse backgrounds to talk through—and implement, at least on an experimental level—solutions to the Twin Cities' most entrenched social issues, including broken food systems and racial disparities in housing and hiring. The goal is to customize solutions to fit the needs of individual organizations, creating a graduating class of "change agents" who can apply what they've uncovered to the problems they face.

The Deep Dive walks participants through every step of the change-seeking process, from "clarifying the intent of your team" to "build[ing] prototypes that develop practical solutions" and "scal[ing] innovation for social benefit," according to the Lab's website. Participants are guided by six global principles, from "bring[ing] an open heart, mind, and will" to "honor[ing" commitments."

The ambition and optimism of the Deep Dive—and Social Innovation Lab in general—is a conscious counterweight to the sometimes-overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that can afflict people who work for positive change.

"Everybody that we've talked to is saying...the same things," says Grant in a video posted to Social Innovation Lab's website. "As hard as they work, they feel like they're facing this dynamic...where they're getting one step forward and two steps back, and they can't really sense that what they're doing is leading to the deep change that they desire."

As Bischoff puts it, it's much easier—and more exciting—to work on overcoming these obstacles as part of a team, "instead of just trying harder by yourself." The end result: a "community of social innovators" that drives momentum for positive change and "close[s] all of these persistent gaps," says Grant.
 

Southern Theater launches innovative ARTshare program

On Tuesday, July 22, the West Bank's Southern Theater publicly launched its ARTshare program with a festive gathering at Town Hall Brewery. Beginning in January, ARTshare members will get full access to all 15 of the Southern's resident performance companies for $18 per month, with a minimum commitment of 12 months. Members can reserve seats at performances on a first-come, first-serve basis, with no additional fees or restrictions. The theater is also working on a set of members-only perks, to be announced later this year.

To start, the theater is making a total of 2,100 memberships available. The Southern is already well on its way to this goal: Barely two hours into the celebration, nearly 200 memberships sold online and at Town Hall. Once the cap is reached, membership will be closed until and unless executive director Damon Runnals and his team decide to add more capacity. Memberships help fund a three-year, $11,000 per year residency for each group. The Southern won't charge residents to rent the space, though they must shoulder their own production costs.

In a recent interview with MinnPost, Runnals acknowledged that ARTshare will bring live performance to the Southern Theater for the first time in more than three years. While this means that the space won't be available for rental or other functions for the foreseeable future, it will provide a platform for more than a dozen small, local dance or theater groups. To smooth the transition, Runnals plans to "[hold] meetings with the resident companies to talk and share best practices," according to the interview.

If the Town Hall-hosted event was any indication, the initiative should be successful. Eighty attendees filled the brewery's patio. Free beer and appetizers fueled a merry crowd, many of which were members of Southern's future resident companies. People in orange ARTshare T-shirts circulated through the crowd, speaking with attendees about the initiative and soliciting membership pledges. At 4:30 p.m., the brewery patio hosted three impromptu performances from future ARTshare resident companies.

Members can expect more of the same from ARTshare's nearly untested membership model. As he noted in the MinnPost interview, Runnals and his team didn't have another example to study. Two theaters in Chicago and the Pacific Northwest also offer limited numbers of unrestricted memberships, but they both double as production companies. As a "co-presentation" facility, says Runnals, the Southern is more like Northern Spark - "a platform for artists," who have lots of say over how the theater operates, not to mention its content.

New cycling museum taking shape on Central Avenue

The Twin Cities has an entrenched biking culture and a surprising history of local cycling innovations. Soon, MSP will have a cycling museum to celebrate those achievements, as well.

Three cycling enthusiasts, including the two founders of Recovery Bike Shop, are creating the Cycling Museum of Minnesota (CMM)—"an idea that's long overdue," says Nina Clark, Secretary of CMM's Board of Directors. The museum will open sometime in 2015, in the 4,000-square-foot, second floor suite above Recovery.

The idea for a cycling museum originated with Juston Anderson, the captain of the Minnesota chapter of The Wheelmen, a national organization "dedicated to keeping alive the heritage of American cycling," according to its website.

Over the years, CMM has accumulated dozens of bikes and bike-related artifacts from sponsors, including one of the oldest bike repair stands in existence, a solid racing wheel prototype from HED Cycling and the first Surly fat tire prototype. "We want to be a repository for those seminal artifacts," Clark says.

At the moment, CMM's collection is largely made up of items Anderson has loaned out. In turn, Recovery owners Brent Fuqua and Seth Stattmiller permit rent-free use of their second-floor space. But CMM is growing quickly: According to Clark, the organization has already had some success in soliciting donations, pledges and loans from individual biking enthusiasts and companies tied to the industry.

A fundraising/open house event in late July showcased items that represent various cycling eras. "The idea is to represent all periods" of cycling history, says Clark about the museum, while "keeping the focus on Minnesota."

The museum won't just be for physical artifacts. A self-described "biker about town," Clark is particularly interested in literature and exhibits that celebrate cycling's contributions to the development of the Twin Cities' park and trail systems, as well as the manufacturing and retail businesses that profit from growing interest cycling.

CMM's founders and directors envision the space as a force for advocacy, too. "We want to be advocates for cycling's benefits for health, the environment and sustainable urban development," Clark explains, "not just a static collection."

Significant donors can earn membership in one of three "Founders' Clubs": Silver Spoke for contributions of $50 to $249, Gold Spoke for $250 to $499, and Titanium Spoke for $500 to $1,000. Since the cost of refurbishing and maintaining items in a collection like CMM's increases proportionally with its size, the organization is exploring membership and/or sponsorship models that ensure positive cash flow.

 

Sisyphus, the bold new nanobrewery

After months of anticipation, Sisyphus Brewing Company opened its doors to the general public on July 11.The new nano-brewery, located in a former Dunwoody College of Technology storage space near the I-394/94 interchange, has a 100-seat taproom with local artwork, shuffleboard tables and exposed brickwork.That's the first phase.

A 100-seat performance space on the opposite side of its building is still under construction. And a massive, Kickstarter-funded mural on the north side of the building--facing busy I-394--is ready for admiration.

The beer is flowing, too.Owner and head brewer Sam Harriman unveiled four brews at the July 7 "thank you" party for Kickstarter contributors.The Kentucky Common, which is brewed with ingredients you'd find in a typical Kentucky bourbon, was chewy yet refreshing. The Oatmeal Pale Ale--"I've only tasted one other example of this before in the many beers I've tried," says Harriman--evokes several different styles without being derivative.

The black ale with coffee displayed the final stage of the "brewing" process, with Harriman's associate pouring an ounce or so of dark roast coffee into the freshly poured beer. The Brett IPA toed the line between brewer's dream and nightmare, using a wild strain of yeast (brettanomyces). Regarded as a malodorous contaminant in most styles of beer, brettanomyces imparts a sour, spicy, slightly floral note in the right doses. (It worked beautifully.)

"The brewing world is steeped in tradition, and that tradition says bringing brett into a production brewery is a dangerous proposition," says Harriman. "But others I've talked to do it successfully, and with proper cleaning we'll be able to do it successfully too...I view the use of brett as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the Twin Cities market."

Harriman is also cognizant of how the Twin Cities' brewery scene looks from an outsider's perspective. The region's craft beer advocates, he argues, can get so caught up in new brewery openings and locals' increasingly sophisticated palettes that they downplay the work that still needs to be done.

"People in the Twin Cities may think we have an awesome brewing culture, which we most certainly do," he says, "but we lag behind many, many cities in the US...to set ourselves apart, we need to do things that aren't being done here yet."

Harriman and the Sisyphus crew have no plans to step on other brewers' toes, though. They won't can or distribute, with the possible exception of a partnership with the Comedy Corner (in the basement of the Corner Bar).

Even that will require regulatory wrangling that Harriman doesn't yet have time for. And even if he wanted to, the taproom's volume would probably make that impossible. With a 2-barrel brewing setup, Sisyphus is officially the Twin Cities' only nanobrewery--the smallest brewery designation there is.

Since he can't brew much of any one brew, being small will actually help Harriman experiment with different styles and circle back to fan favorites. "I brew what I like to drink, and I have a really concrete idea about what I like," he says. "There are so many beers out there nowadays, and it takes something really special to stick out in your mind and make you come back for more...Inspiration and focus is what will set us apart in the long run."

A big part of that inspiration are Harriman's plans for a comedy/performance space in the still-in-progress section of his building. The timing of the buildout--and the opening of the space itself--will depend on the taproom's cash flow.

Harriman hesitated to give a timeframe, but was hopeful about its prospects: "If our customers like our beer enough," he says, "we'll be able to build out the other side of that space."

For now, the brewery is open between noon and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Additional hours are in the works.

MSP earns high grades for small-business friendliness

On July 1, in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, online business directory Thumbtack released its annual small business survey of U.S. cities. Minneapolis-St. Paul finished in eleventh place and earned an overall "A" rating, falling behind several cities in Texas and smaller Mountain West towns like Colorado Springs and Boise.

The Thumbtack-Kauffman survey subjected the Twin Cities to more than a dozen measurements, based on responses from surveyed small business owners.The region earned an "A" grade for ease of starting a business and an "A+" for the availability of training and networking programs. It earned decent"'B+" grades for environmental and zoning regulations, and a "B" for health and safety. Licensing rules and employment, labor and hiring protocols came in at the '"B-" mark, with the local tax code and ease of hiring scoring "C+"

The Cities' rankings showed marked improvement over the past two years. Minneapolis-St. Paul's overall rating was "B+" in 2013 and "'B" in 2012. The change in availability of training and networking programs was particularly noteworthy, with a jump from "C-" to "A+" between last year and this year. The overall regulatory environment and ease of hiring improved significantly as well.

Although the Twin Cities could have scored higher in some areas, the region fared great next to some well-known locales. Buffalo, Providence, Sacramento, and San Diego earned "F" grades for overall business friendliness, and many other East and West Coast cities failed to clear the "D" bar. At the state level, California, Illinois and Rhode Island earned failing grades.

The survey also sourced subjective opinions from business owners across the Cities. Some of these were glowing: A Minneapolis-based designer reported that "I'm in a great location and have a lot of room for growth." Others were more skeptical of local governments' role in business, with a Minneapolis pet sitter complaining about the state sales tax on dog-walking services. 

Relatively high taxes, coupled with byzantine regulations, were a common complaint. But some respondents actually argued for a more hands-on approach by local regulators, including a Minneapolis voice teacher who complained that hands-off licensing was creating room for scam artists in the field.

Thumbtack's survey collected reponses from about 12,000 U.S. small business owners (in the Lower 48 only) over a two-month period in early 2014. For a copy of the full report, contact jon.lieber@thumbtack.com.

 

Pedalopolis takes to the streets with crowd-sourced rides

This week the Twin Cities BIKEFUN!'s Pedalopolis extravaganza will take to the streets. Pedalopolis is an annual "crowd-sourced festival of social bike rides" with dozens of user-generated events and themed rides. The celebration kicked off at 5 p.m. yesterday with a parade between Matthews Park and Powderhorn Park, where a potluck lasted into the evening. The parade's centerpiece was the enormous Pedal Bear, a "pedal-powered polar bear" built by the locally based ARTCRANK Collective.

The opening festivities were just the tip of the iceberg. "The Pedalopolis festival is an ever expanding work in progress," writes Nickey Robare, of Twin Cities BIKEFUN! "[We're] creating a space, and the community has stepped in to fill it up." The goal is to create a series of themed rides and gatherings around Minneapolis and St. Paul. BIKEFUN! accepted ideas from members of the public until shortly before the festivities began, with "room for any type of bike ride you can imagine," says Robare. (Awesomeness is encouraged.)

Participants have clearly had fun planning this year's event. Last night, riders could choose from a 15-mile mural tour of Minneapolis or a meditation-themed ride with the DharmaCore Queer Meditation Community. At noon today, the 2DCLOUD Bicycle Distro rounds up riders who'd like to distribute free books at community centers and other locations around the Cities.

This evening, the "It’s Your Birthday Bike Ride" asks riders to pretend it's their birthday and dress accordingly. (No actual birthdays required, according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.) For a nightcap, St. Anthony Main Theater hosts a screening of "Half The Road: The Passion, Pitfalls, and Power of Women’s Professional Cycling," a film that looks at women's love for the sport and "the pressing issues of inequality that modern-day female athletes face in male dominated sports."  

Tomorrow, history and amenities are on the agenda. A 6:30 p.m. ride hits six "overlooked parks" in St. Paul, a simultaneous jaunt visits various architectural gems in the Seward neighborhood, and a 7 p.m. "Replacements Ride" takes a tour of locales mentioned in the Twin Cities band's songs and ends with a drink at the CC Club, a favorite haunt of theirs.

On Friday, the weekend begins in style with "Tour de Breweries," which includes a stop at Town Hall Brewery and other yet-to-be-named locations. At 11 p.m., the "Secret Society of Midnight Cyclists" meets to pedal to "a location known only to the [tour] leader," according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.

Pedalopolis's last big event will take place at 9 p.m. on Saturday, at Bedlam Lowertown in St. Paul, with a "short jorts" dance party and a performance from River City Soul. The event, like all Pedalopolis gatherings, is free and open to the public. A "Hangover Ride" and other "day-after" activities will take place on Sunday.

In addition to Pedalopolis, its showcase celebration, BIKEFUN! also administers an online biking forum that connects Twin Cities cyclists with safe, community-themed activities in all seasons. In addition to establishing it as a key mode of transport for Twin Cities residents, the organization aims to make biking fun and accessible for kids and adults of all ages.

Made's bespoke products merge client branding, sustainability

Made, based in Uptown, takes an approach to designing and manufacturing corporate gifts, apparel and novelties that encapsulates client brands and reduces the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

Made is the brainchild of Michelle Courtright and Kristin Hollander, two "gift industry" veterans who met through mutual friends in the late 2000s. When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, the pair decided to abandon their storefronts and join forces to create memorable corporate gifts—"beyond tchotchkes," says Courtright.

Made takes a bespoke approach to each product, usually designing items from scratch. The company started in government procurement. Through contracts with the Pentagon and FBI, Courtright and Hollander devised complex, multi-step solutions to clients' often-inscrutable requests.

"We gained a reputation for figuring stuff out," says Courtright.

Their approach also led to contracts with Twin Cities businesses like Target, as well as with The New York Times and pop culture icons like Pharrell Williams. In Made's nearly six years of operation, the company has relied exclusively on referrals and organic growth.

Another client, Minnesota Public Radio, still relies on Made to design and fulfill gift orders for its 120,000-strong membership base. Early on, when MPR needed a large order of red mugs, Made advised that red dyes manufactured in the United States were highly toxic, eventually finding a German producer that used a less-toxic vegetable base.

As a general rule, Made doesn't like to create disposable or single-use products, although they women bend this rule for such items as USAID's natural disaster relief kits. Made also structures its supply chain, where possible, to avoid redundant shipments.

But the company balances an earnest commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship with realism. "[Our client] Whole Foods knows that its customers won't want to pay $10 for a single tote bag," says Courtright. So Made finds solutions that incorporate low-impact materials without sacrificing affordability.

Although Made has Minnesota roots –and 13 local employees—its approach to manufacturing is a global endeavor. The company sources materials and components from all over Asia, but tries to acquire as many materials as possible from the United States. “The world is more interconnected than you would believe," says Courtright.

Film in the City connects at-risk youth with creative potential

Earlier this summer, more than a dozen Minneapolis-St. Paul 17-21 year olds participated in the inaugural production of Film in the City, a Minnesota State Arts Board-funded initiative that connects at-risk youth with local filmmakers and front-of-the-camera talent. The original short, “A Common Manor,” was entirely written by Film in the City’s young participants, who also made up the majority of its cast. Highlights of the filming process were included in filmmaker Jeff Stonehouse’s contribution to One Day on Earth, with the edited production to be released in October.

Film in the City is the brainchild of Rich Reeder, a 30-year veteran of the film industry. He was inspired by a tragedy: While he was producing a documentary on the White Earth Reservation, a local high school student suddenly took his own life, shattering the community (and Reeder’s crew). As a filmmaking veteran, he saw the medium’s potential to boost self-esteem and commitment in at-risk youth.

Reeder and an assistant connected with six homeless youth organizations—Ain Dah Yung, Youthlink, Avenues NE, Face to Face/SafeZone, Full Cycle and Kulture Klub Collaborative—across the Twin Cities. Beginning in February of this year, 16 participants attended 12 workshops that covered everything from art and sound design to improvisation.

Filming took place over two weeks in June, at several locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul (the Midtown Farmers’ Market and private residences in St. Paul’s Summit-University and Midway neighborhoods among them). Local arts organizations including the Guthrie Theater and HDMG Studio & Production Center lent backdrops and equipment.

“A Common Manor” wrapped on June 25. There’s still plenty of editing and marketing work to be done before its release. But the project has already paid dividends: As a direct result of their work with Film in the City, says Reeder, at least eight participants have conducted internships or mentoring sessions with “professional Twin Cities’ directors, writers, cinematographers, lighting and sound specialists, makeup and wardrobe mentors.” Two have worked with Stonehouse on a commercial film shoot in Wisconsin.

Reeder also sees Film in the City, and projects like it, as critical for character-building and professional development. “These youth have made major strides in terms of self-esteem, collaboration with other youth and adults, learning the entire film[making] process and focusing…on specific aspects of the creative arts,” he says.

Reeder and crew plan to apply for the same Minnesota State Arts Board grant next year. The hope is that first-year veterans will actively mentor second-year participants, creating an artistic legacy among at-risk youth.

More ambitiously, Film in the City may soon export its concept to other cities. “Youth organization leaders in Seattle and San Francisco have already expressed interest in the concept,” says Reeder, noting that those cities’ famous writing and visual arts workshops for homeless youth haven’t yet been complemented by filmmaking initiatives.

 

Twin Cities artist wins ArtPrize with "faux border crossing"

On June 26, for the second year in a row, five Twin Cities’ artists gathered at the Walker Art Center’s ArtPrize Pitch Night to share their ideas for a highly visible installation at Grand Rapids, Michigan’s annual ArtPrize extravaganza – and compete for a $5,000 prize. Each had five minutes to pitch to five jurors.

The winner, Bjorn Sparrman, will construct a “faux border crossing” on the Gillett Bridge, a heavily trafficked pedestrian bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation will stand for the duration of the festival, from September 24 to October 12. Along with work from thousands of other participating artists, Sparrman’s project will contend for one of two $200,000 grand prizes.

The project, which will straddle the dividing line between the east and west sides of Grand Rapids, is a tongue-in-cheek take on an international border crossing. According to Sparrman’s pitch, it will feature “border guards,” a fake customs booth with awning, and signs indicating the “political” barrier.

“[The] jurors were impressed with Bjorn’s awareness of the bridge as a passage,” says Jehra Patrick, one of the five Pitch Night jurors, in an interview with ArtPrize. “We were interested in his ability to create a point of engagement and an obstacle, making people stop and consider the work.”

The four Walker Pitch Night runners-up have impressive CVs: Aaron Dysart is a City Collaboratory Fellow with the City of St. Paul; Alison Hiltner is a prominent Minneapolis-based installation artist; Bill Mullaney is a performance artist and one half of the popular performance duo Fire Drill; and Aaron Squadroni recently served as Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Artist-in-Residence.

The jury included Melinda Childs, Director of Artist Services at Forecast Public Art; John Hock, founder of Franconia Sculpture Park; Mia Lopez, a current Walker Art Center fellow; Jehra Patrick, program director for mnartists.org; and Piotr Szyhalski, professor of media arts at Minneapolis College of Art & Design.

ArtPrize is in its sixth year, but last year’s Walker event – put on in collaboration with Delta Air Lines, mnartists.org, and Open Systems Technologies – was the first organized opportunity for non-Michigan artists to earn funding for more ambitious projects. Pitch Night has since expanded to Cincinnati.

ArtPrize itself is wildly popular with artists. Billed as “a radically open, independently organized international art competition,” ArtPrize turns “three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids [into] an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters.”

Anyone can participate and any space within the designated district can host installations. In addition to the $400,000 in grand prizes, participants can win eight category prizes of $20,000 each. This year’s event will feature more than 1,500 individual entries.

 

ArtsLab report highlights capacity building, resiliency

ArtsMidwest, an Uptown-based arts organization that forms partnerships with artists and local art organizations throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region, has released a major report to publicize the achievements of its ArtsLab subsidiary. Entitled “Capacity Building and Resilience: What Participants Learned Through ArtsLab,” the exhaustive report outlines the experience of eight organizations, including five from the Twin Cities.

According to Anne Romens, ArtsMidwest’s External Relations Manager, the report “offers key takeaways for nonprofit organizations seeking to build their resiliency and for grantmakers supporting the arts and culture sector.” The report itself is intended for “organizations looking to strengthen their adaptability, funders interested in the leadership qualities that support careful fiscal oversight, and…colleagues in other capacity building programs, both within and beyond the arts community.”

ArtsLab partners can enroll in the Peer Learning Community, an intensive, two-year “training and technical assistance program that brings diverse arts leaders together in a supportive, collaborative environment.” Components of the Peer Learning include mentorship assignments, monthly webinars, quarterly retreats, and training sessions that focus on financial management, strategic planning, community engagement and impact evaluation.

The five participating Twin Cities organizations had incisive feedback for ArtsLab—and the program’s future participants. During its first year working with ArtsLab, All My Relations Arts was evicted from its space at the Great Neighborhoods! Development Corporation, forcing the organization to hastily partner with the Native American Community Development Institute and seek funding assistance from ArtsLab. Over the subsequent two years, All My Relations found a new gallery and performance space that now anchors Franklin Avenue’s ascendant American Indian Cultural Corridor.

Mizna, a St. Paul organization that sponsors the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, nearly went bust when its former director resigned to pursue her writing career. ArtsLab helped the organization secure much-needed funding to carry it through. But Rabi’h Nahas, Mizna’s board director at the time, is even more appreciative of the guidance and experience of ArtsLab’s staff and educators.

In addition to the report and accompanying case studies, ArtsLab released a complementary video series on ArtsMidwest’s YouTube channel, including contributions from the studied organizations.

ArtsLab was founded in 1999 with grants from six funding partners, including the Bush Foundation. According to its website, the initiative aims to “support the acquisition of new skills, tools, and habits [that enable] navigation in a constantly changing environment” through “a highly participatory process.” It’s permanently staffed by Program Director Sharon Rodning Bash, Program Manager Angela Keeton, and Program Assistant Emily Anderson, and supported by a national group of educators and arts leaders.

 

NECC manufactures custom reference cables for musicians stateside and globally

Local musicians who value realistic, earthy sound quality have a local source for their equipment: Northeast Minneapolis-based Northeast Cable Company (NECC).

Founded in 2012, the company designs and handcrafts reference cables for instruments, microphones and amplifiers. Its wares can be used in live and studio settings. According to Jake Gilbertson, NECC’s operations manager and an engineer by training, the cables are designed for musicians who need “unique, durable, and flexible” cables that won’t wear out with regular use.

Unlike many larger companies, NECC focuses exclusively on these cables – it doesn’t manufacture accessories or other equipment. NECC takes a bespoke approach to its products, creating each order to customer specifications and executing a thorough inspection—“by a real human”—before shipment. Additionally, the XLR (microphone) cable is made to avoid tangling and the patch cable made rigid for stability.

Reliability is a key objective. Larger manufacturers take a quantity over quality approach to cable manufacturing, forcing musicians to go through cables faster and make needless replacement purchases. By outlasting their inferior counterparts, NECC’s cables significantly reduce a major expense for prolific musicians.

Even patch cables, which are notorious throughout the industry for their tendency to wear out, get this treatment. Gilbertson and his colleagues took the “time to figure out what would make these cables last forever,” according to NECC’s website, and developed “the most durable and reliable patch cable on the market.” Despite a higher manufacturing cost, musicians reap long-term benefits because they don’t have to buy replacements as frequently.

Sound quality is also essential. NECC’s cables are designed to minimize feedback and interference, creating a studio-quality listening experience even in sub-optimal settings. All of NECC’s products include features that make this possible, including double-Reussen shielding (which clarifies sound by allowing the cable to lie flat on the stage or floor) and a proprietary ULTRA-FLEX cord jacket that minimizes crimping when the cable is moved, stretched or wound back on itself. The cables’ contacts are gold, a superior material for the purpose.

NECC cables also aim to create a sound that’s as natural and “clean” as can be. “All of the properties of sound are tied up in each cable’s copper strands,” says Gilbertson. “By manipulating the individual strands, you can change how your instrument performs.” Whereas many cable companies sell sound- and even genre-specific cables—rock, acoustic, and so on—NECC’s products can be used by musicians of all stripes.  

And they are. Though still small, NECC already has a nascent, global dealer network, with outposts in Bend, Oregon; New York City; Brantford, Ontario; and even Japan. Up-and-coming musicians from Minnesota, Tennessee and California are regular customers. Twin Cities residents can find its stock cables at Twin Town Guitar in Uptown, American Guitar Boutique in Plymouth, and Lavonne Music in Savage, or order custom cables directly through the company’s website.

Crux Collaborative and the power of rebranding

Crux Collaborative, a user-experience consulting firm based in the southwest Minneapolis, is dramatically changing its approach to business, staff and clients as part of a bold rebranding effort.

During the past year, the firm formerly known as Eaton Golden has adopted a flatter management model, a more collaborative approach to internal problem-solving, and a culture of “trust and even friendship” between clients and employees, says co-principal Mahtab Rezai. She calls the experience overwhelmingly positive, with new clients and new staffers energized—and surprised—by Crux’s highly personal, yet results-driven, approach to its work.

Recently, says Rezai, an increasingly tech-savvy population and a growing volume of digital points of customer-vendor contact created a “sea change” in user experience best practices, from a proscriptive, top-down approach to a more user-friendly, even nurturing one.

“Almost everything we do now is complex and interrelated,” she says, including how we access and communicate information. Crux specializes in improving user experiences for “complex, data-driven, transactional experiences,” Rezai says, which “aren’t optional and haven’t historically provided a lot of choice to the user.”

Ultimately, the goal is to render these experiences—like using a health exchange, executing online financial transactions and accessing employee benefits—more “humane,” making it easier and more natural for people to complete essential, boring tasks in the digital space.

Rebranding has helped Eaton Golden/Crux Collaborative process and take advantage of this shift. Sadly, a tragedy accelerated the process.

In early 2011, principals Emily Eaton and John Golden lost their young son to cancer. Rezai, a former colleague of Golden’s who was already in talks to take a new role with the company, immediately took over day-to-day management of the firm while the parents grieved. Eaton eventually sold her interest to Rezai and left the company completely to write a book about coping with grief.

Rezai still has her operational role. Golden and Rezai are now equal partners. But Crux is no longer “two leads plus a support staff,” says Rezai. Nearly every important decision, including the company’s new name, arises through consultations with rank-and-file staffers. In a larger company, this might produce friction, but Crux is small enough to function as a single team.

So far, the experience has been transformative. Even experienced employees had never seen a rebrand go so smoothly. Morale has spiked. Clients are happy, too: Crux just posted the strongest first quarter in its 10-year history. Last year, with the transition in full swing, the company made Minnesota Business Magazine’s “Top 100 Businesses to Work For” list, a major achievement.

Will Crux’s new approach to business translate into a bigger workforce and a national client pool? For now, Rezai is cautious about such plans.

“Growth is not our objective,” she says. “Excellence is.”

The company has eight full-timers, with room for just a handful more. And since it doesn’t have a business development division or send out RFPs—“We’ve found that they’re a waste of our time”—the firm relies on word of mouth to attract new clients. Crux is picky about accepting new work, essentially “prequalifying” clients before pitching or consulting with them.
“The ability to judiciously say ‘no’ has taught us how to say ‘yes’ when it’s clearly right,” says Rezai.

By choice, Crux also focuses on companies in the banking/finance, medical device, health insurance and benefits administration subsectors—niches heavily represented by Twin Cities businesses. As Rezai puts it, “we stick to what we’re good at.”

 
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