A call for more arts patrons

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October 11, 2010
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman visited the Twin Cities in August and toured arts organizations around town, enthusiastically praising what he encountered.

In a Star Tribune interview, Landesman observed that “Minneapolis and St. Paul are leaders in how the arts are affecting and transforming communities.” Later, in his Arts Endowment blog, he added that these “... are two great cities for us to shine a spotlight on and point to ...”

Landesman has taken a broad view of all of the arts and their role, among other things, in strengthening our communities by facilitating neighborhood revitalization. He has shepherded Endowment grants programs that explicitly fund urban development projects that utilize the arts. I think we have to agree with him that arts are, indeed, a strong force in turning around neighborhoods and cities.

Landesman’s background is interesting. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a doctorate from the Yale School of Drama. He ran, and now owns, Jujamcyn Theaters, a Broadway Producer and owner of five Broadway theatres. Lest we forget the local connection, the original owner of Jujamcyn Theaters was Minneapolis businessman and theatre impresario, Jim Binger, who worked with us in the early years at the Orpheum Theatre to bring Broadway shows to town.

Landesman’s appointment to the NEA and his focus on making connections with the arts and neighborhood building underscores that the arts — dance, orchestras, visual arts and, yes, even Broadway touring productions — play an important and, perhaps, indispensable role in the vitality of our community. From the theatre we bring to our stages to the preservation of our historic venues, arts organizations including Hennepin Theatre Trust enrich both the vital cultural atmosphere and economic climate of the Twin Cities.

Beyond the success of the Hennepin Theatre District, examples of the arts resurrecting neighborhoods in the Twin Cities abound. Look at what artists did for the Warehouse District.  

Long before it was fashionable to eat, shop or play in the District, artists and galleries called those formidable brick buildings home. Visit Northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Lowertown arts communities to see the incredible arts culture that has sprung up in recent years, breathing new life into an older demographic and reviving former industrial structures into centers of community activity.

Open Book on South Washington Avenue literally jump-started the redevelopment of that entire corridor.

What Landesman and arts supporters from across the nation, including many in the Twin Cities, also understand is that art cannot transform blocks, neighborhoods, cities or society without the support of the community. Yet it is not enough for a narrow sector to talk about it. Every theatre, museum, gallery, dance studio, printmaker or sculptor can only inspire, challenge or change through people; art alone won’t do it.

Landesman praises the Twin Cities as “a very arts-engaged community. (The per capita theater attendance in Minneapolis is second only to New York City.) Everybody there gets it — the political structure gets it, the private sector gets it, the corporations do. They are, in many ways, ahead of the rest of the country.”

The trick is to put those words into action on a local level. So, I’m renewing the collective challenge to everyone in our community to make it a point to attend an arts event at least once a month. Visit the theatre, spend an afternoon at the Walker Art Center or the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, go to a concert at Orchestra Hall, drop by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts or plan a night out at any one of the numerous venues with live music. Just do it now. Make it a goal to attend an arts event once per month.

You can transform our community simply by showing up and being an arts consumer. If you want a great city, you need to support the arts and not rest on the praise of visitors, however prestigious.

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.