General 1-6-2004

Twin Cities from the Outside In

Jaime Kleiman, new in town, will be contributing interviews of artists and arts workers. Watch for her piece on Kristin Van Loon and her coverage of Clea Felien's roundtable discussion at the MIA of the question, "Is there a Minnesota art?"

“Why on earth did you move to Minnesota?!”
You wouldn’t believe how often people here ask me that. As a recent transplant from New York City, the artists who ask me this question seem to think that I was where it’s at, that living in Manhattan somehow made me more arty and professional than Minneapolis ever could.

“Well,” I tell them, “I moved to Minneapolis for a contracted acting job. Non-union actors in New York rarely get guaranteed pay for 9 contracted months. I also heard that the Twin Cities was a great arts town, that it was possible to create new things, experiment, get my work seen and reviewed, and also have a somewhat quality lifestyle.”

Indeed, I am writing this in my studio apartment – which is the same size and rent as my pad in Williamsburg, sans 2 roommates, 2 cats, mice, and a sketchy landlord. While I’m certainly not making money here as an artist (I have my own place, car payments, and a lazy streak), my quality of living has increased exponentially. It is, in fact, possible to be a working artist in Minneapolis-St. Paul and have a somewhat normal life with a home and friends and a garden and kids if you really want them.
Not to mention the numerous uninsured clinics and mental facilities around here. If I’m ever in trouble, one of these places will help me out.

This is not to say that I despise Manhattan. As a theatre artist, I simply became disillusioned with it. I remember driving through Soho with my father the day before I auditioned for New York University, looking at Banana Republic and upscale restaurants. “Where’s all the galleries, Dad?” I asked. He shrugged. A native Queens-ian, my father never much cared about the artistic integrity of Manhattan neighborhoods. But I did! I was looking for the Ginsbergs and Kerouacs and Cunninghams and Woolfs and Cages and Grahams! I had envisioned myself brooding in mutinous cafés with other revolutionary intellectuals, writing barmy manifestos on cocktail napkins and performing impromptu yet groundbreaking improvisations.


It’s true. New York has become one big shopping mall. The so-called theatre being produced by reputable off-Broadway theatres was stale and antiquated to my eyes; it is sad truth that the best theatre in New York right now is being produced off or off-off or off-off-off Broadway, far from the touristy lights and glamour of Midtown and Broadway. In fact, the best shows I saw were at venerable experimental institutions like P.S. 122, LaMaMa, or St. Mark’s Church – compare their shoestring budgets to the State Department’s and you’ll understand the dollar discrepancy between a 2-hour commercial like Mamma Mia! and an experimental or non-profit downtown play. In fact, a recent issue of American Theatre magazine blatantly stated that the most interesting new plays were being produced at regional theatres – in Florida, Seattle, Louisiana, Los Angeles, and – you betcha – Minnesota.

In the Twin Cities, the dollars seem a little more evenly distributed. This city has the more theatre seats per capita than New York City, the largest Fringe Festival in the country, active dance and spoken word communities, the nation’s largest literary center (The Loft), a nationally-renowned and respected Playwright’s Center, amazing museums (having been to a large handful around the world, I can confidently say that the Walker is one of my favorites), the award-winning Guthrie and Children’s Theatres, and dedicated arts patrons, in both the corporate and community sectors. Up until this year, there was also a substantial amount of grant and fellowship funding available to artists; even with the budget cuts, I still think that there are more opportunities for funding here than New York, Boston, or DC – all cities hyped for their arts communities and none of which have got my toes tapping like Minneapolis-St. Paul.

This is not to say that I think the Twin Cities arts scene is flawless. Over the next few months, I’ll be interviewing some of the Twin Cities’ movers and shakers, artists as well as arts administrators, talking with them about the community, their careers, and the state of the arts in Minnesota. – what are its strengths and weaknesses? What does the arts community need and how can we achieve it?
It should also go without saying that I’m sticking around here for a while – acting, seeing shows, auditioning, and collecting unemployment. Gearing up for my second Minnesota winter. The weather is but a small sacrifice for such a large reward.

The cold.

The wind.

The blessed, blessed snow…

Why did I move here again?