Minnesota artists rise to meet a daunting challenge

Facing the uncertainties of the pandemic and mounting demands for social justice, artists are finding novel ways to connect with audiences.

The theater postponed its shows, then postponed them again.

But Bethany Lacktorin wanted to keep the doors of the New London Little Theatre open. So, this summer, she began opening them for one person, then another. Art by appointment, she called it.

As a performer who’s crafted shows for small audiences, the format wasn’t new to Lacktorin, the theater’s program director. But in this central Minnesota city of 1,400, it was “very unfamiliar to a lot of people,” she said. Those “brave enough to come” to the Museum of Portable Sound heard snippets of audio from across the world, collected by a man across the world. Later this month, she’ll launch another, maybe more experimental work.

“I thought, let’s try it,” Lacktorin said.

Art by appointment, art by Zoom, art by any means. Across Minnesota, mega arts institutions and individual artists alike are trying new ways of connecting with audiences despite — and because of — the pandemic and the uprising following the death of George Floyd.

They’re staging shows on patios, on porches, on a baseball field. They’re filming and screening works that illuminate injustices online, outside darkened theaters, on a screen strung between grain elevators. They’re exhibiting new work in windows, on plywood, on fences.

At a time when many are struggling financially, artists and organizations are still making work, making sure that Minnesotans can process all that’s happening in their state and their world through paintings and song, radical posters and one-on-one experiments.

Buy an artist’s screen-printed T-shirt and you might be funding a Black-owned bookstore.

“There’s a lot of beautiful mutual aid happening — artists doing it by and for other artists,” said Anniessa Antar, activation specialist at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “We don’t need these big institutions … and I think that’s super-inspiring.”

With its Third Thursdays, which Antar plans, the museum is highlighting some of those projects, inviting folks to screen-print their own posters with the People’s Library.

Working for change

Little looks like it did a year ago. This fall, the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will be playing to empty halls for virtual audiences. At the big museums, masked visitors touch no screens. Stages remain dark.

Behind the scenes, too, artists are making changes. A diverse, cross-discipline group led by artists of color is meeting weekly, brainstorming ways to make the scene more equitable. They’ve released a mission statement and a letter, calling for the Minnesota State Arts Board to rethink its grants, but much of their work will bear fruit in upcoming months.  Read more