Robyne's Hood

Other TV news personalities stay planted behind the desk. Then there's Robyne Robinson, who claims the whole Twin Cities for her stage.

Jon, this is Robyne Robinson. My next Exhibit show is coming up on the 15th. Now is my busiest time, which is great for you if you have the time to stop and observe. If you do have the time and you can get this message before 11 o'clock in the evening, I'm having an Exhibit meeting at my house. Just a bunch of us are going to sit together and have a glass of wine or coffee or something and talk about the show. This is our last meeting before I'm jetting to New York for the weekend. I have a speech to give Friday the 6th at the Marriott in Minnetonka to the Minnesota Student Association. Got a lot of little things I have to do all week in regards to this show, plus I'm working on a series, which is just about done. I wish I'd talked to you today, because I had Lori Barbero and Tina Schlieske out here doing interviews for "The Buzz" and for the series that I'm doing about the Billboard magazine article that's coming out on Minneapolis music by Jon Bream, and I am quoted in it, and I'm searching frantically for a Details magazine article on the hottest places to go out in the Twin Cities scene that I'm quoted in as well. I'm just dog tired, dude, and going crazy. I'm also working on my Web site tonight, late.

This is the story of the 9 o'clock news anchor on the fourth-rated TV station in the 15th largest media market in the country. Don't worry. It's better than that sounds.

Because she's black in a white-bread town. Because she's hip--or at least a hipster. Because she's smart--and, yes, pretty--and every night she steps out from behind her desk and gives you images you've never seen on TV news: the Asian-American DJ who spins records while wearing a bondage mask. The noise band that bangs on sheet metal. The industrial artist who turns unidentifiable found objects into found identity art.

Diana Watters

The story is better because she says things like, "I came here in 1990 on a bus after losing my job in Baltimore, and now there's a billboard with my picture on it across from the bus station." It's better because she's talented and righteous and self-righteous and, maybe, good for the universe in a way few TV news people in this town have been.

And it's better because one afternoon, before a speaking engagement at the Downtown Marriott, she says, with face straight as a plumb line: "If I believed all the things people said about me, about Robyne Robinson, the myth would consume me." How many of you have ever worried that the myth might consume you? Thought so.

This is a story of a woman with power, money, and respect. Minnesota has never known a figure like Robyne Robinson. In 1998 she's not only a new kind of talking head, but a new kind of culture industry--her career a shuttle run between the Holidazzle and the hipoisie.

If you're the found-art artist, she's a shot at a big exhibit. If you're the found-art artist's publicist, she's a glimpse at the public life you'll never

have. If your RAV-4 has a "GO APPLE VALLEY EAGLES" sticker on its back bumper, she's the distillation of urban hip. And if you think you're hip and urban, she's the media queen that walks among you but can never, perhaps, be of you.

And if you knock on the door of her spacious townhouse behind the Walker Art Center on a cold autumn evening after trip-hoppers Brother Sun Sister Moon have just played a hugely successful show that she helped publicize, she'll answer in a black suit and black cropped top--she's tall, maybe 5'11", and casually composed--and she'll offer you a glass of wine, and introduce you to every coolster in town.

Look! At the arcane playing-card-size pictures of Jesus she has sitting on the mantel. The rosaries dangling from the CD shelves and end tables. "I think the iconography of Catholicism is very beautiful," she says. Hmmm, interesting. Hmmm, quirky. Hmmm, ironic. But not quite as interesting as her collection of 70-year-old Victrola phonographs, one an Edison original from 1911, with cartridges that look like ink wells, another with a megaphone amplifier that looks like a Venus flytrap.

If you ask, she'll crank one up, and it will be so loud as to nearly send her Siamese cat Oscar (as in jazz pianist Oscar Peterson) out the window. "Oscar, you stink, cat," Robinson remonstrates, then, spraying air freshener from a silver bottle to cover up the smell of her baby's offerings. She does it nonchalantly, because she does everything nonchalantly.

When she oversaw the hanging of paintings for the art show she recently curated through her arts-support organization, Exhibit, she did it nonchalantly. And when she bought a $900 digital camera to shoot the show, she did that nonchalantly, too. Okay, she got a tad flustered when the salesperson couldn't find the right model, but never testy. Always generous, polite, and smooth.

Smooth in dealing with other drivers. ("What's this brother want? Okay, bro', you can go.") Smooth when one of her shoes gets caught in the sidewalk and she very nearly almost half stumbles. Smooth when she's walking into the Metropolitan Learning Alliance, an alternative school for struggling high-schoolers in the bowels of the Mall of America, in order to meet The Kids. The Kids, who see more of themselves in this 37-year-old child of divorced parents who listens to Lauryn Hill and says "dude" with street inflection than they do in Diana Pierce.

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