VOICES // Hennepin Theatre District

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August 1, 2011
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
Our town gets a lift

Big things begin with smaller visions

Cities aren’t stagnant creatures; they’re either consciously evolving in interest, beauty and engagement or losing their momentum and sinking slowly into mediocrity … or worse.  And the people who reside in communities, every single one of them, have a choice about what kind of city they want, today and tomorrow.  

Maybe it’s because I’m a native Minneapolitan or perhaps I’m just a dreamer, but each year I’ve become more invested in living in a Minneapolis that is as great as it can be. I want our city to be a beautiful, culturally engaging place to live, work and enjoy.  This may explain my many years preoccupation with Hennepin Avenue and the important role it plays in the cultural and economic health of our entire state.

Hennepin Theatre Trust has been a leader in proactively making our city and our state a better place. You may well know us because of our beautiful and historic State, Orpheum and Pantages theatres. Or you may know us for the Broadway shows we present to you, or the concerts and other entertainment you regularly enjoy in our theatres. Or you may know us as the leaders of the Hennepin Theatre District. All of these activities not only delight and engage, but they make our city a more dynamic, culturally vital destination, enriching both individuals and all of us collectively.  

Last year, as part of our strategic planning efforts (which included extensive community feedback), Hennepin Theatre Trust expanded its role beyond traditional programming and historic preservation. The Trust now emphasizes the creation of a “cultural corridor” along Hennepin Avenue to link existing major and emerging arts endeavors. In essence, we are seeking to “connect the dots” along Hennepin Avenue to foster a vibrant corridor for artists and the arts.   

Given this expanded vision for the Trust, imagine our euphoria in learning that we recently received a $200,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to develop in collaboration with others a plan for this “cultural corridor.” We are especially thrilled because we are one of just 51 grants given by the NEA as part of its “Our Town” program.
The Trust will use the grant to re-envision Hennepin Avenue as an arts-inspired cultural corridor stretching from the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the historic theatres and down to the Mississippi Riverfront. We’ll be working closely with the Walker Art Center, Artspace Projects and the City of Minneapolis, among others, to create this vision.

NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, who was very impressed with the Twin Cities during his last visit here, commented: “Communities across our country are investing in the arts and smart design to enhance Americans’ quality of life and to promote the distinctive identities of our communities. Our Town creates partnerships among local governments and arts and design organizations to strengthen the creative sector and help revitalize the overall community.”

Through this inaugural round of “Our Town” grants, over $6.5 million will reach 34 states, including Minnesota, to invest in “creative placemaking,” using the arts to create livable, sustainable communities. By requiring a partnership between local government and an arts or design organization, Our Town encourages creative, cross-sector solutions to the challenges facing towns, cities and the arts community.

This grant helps us move forward faster in creating an even more vibrant cultural future for downtown Minneapolis and its many arts organizations and individuals. By facilitating the arts-inspired community development that this grant supports, we can confidently look forward to a year-round, nationally acclaimed cultural destination centered on the whole of Hennepin Avenue. We’ll be looking for your input in the months ahead as we develop this plan, so please check out our website in the near future on how you can participate and help us shape
the kind of city we all really want.

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