Baby Please Don't Go

Former Minnesotans Say the Twin Cities Cultural Scene Is Insular. Insecure. Unprofitable. Out of Touch. What Does It Mean to Live in an Artists' Paradise If Everyone Wants to Leave?

"I wasn't going to move here," says 34-year-old artist Shannon Kennedy, late of St. Paul, now of midtown Manhattan. It is early May, and Kennedy is toiling away at a few tasks in the office space of the Montgomery/Glasoe Gallery in Chelsea. She looks much the same now as when she left two years ago, with loose hair gathered and pinned up at the crown of her head. At the same time, she seems somewhat more careworn now than when she lived in the Cities; a darkness has crept in around the eyes. "It wasn't in my plan at all. I had an easy lifestyle, a nice car, a nice apartment. I didn't want to move here, but Carolyn and Elizabeth [Glasoe and Dee, of the eponymous gallery] told me, 'You have to be here. If we're going to put this much energy into your career, you have to do the same'....I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had the push."

Just two years before, Kennedy was as celebrated in Minnesota as a local artist could be. She had shown her work at the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. She had received numerous local fellowships and awards, including three grants from the Jerome Foundation, two from the McKnight Foundation, and two from the Minnesota State Arts Board. And in 1999 she received a large national prize called the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award. Then, like so many Minnesota artists who seem to be hitting their stride, she suddenly took her race elsewhere.

Kennedy and I set up to talk in a corner of the office, keeping out of the way of photographers and of Carolyn Glasoe, who haggles constantly on the phone over arrangements for moving art here and there. We look at some of Kennedy's work: eerie close-up films of running and sliding insects backed by pulsing electronic music. It is not vastly different from work she did in Minnesota, which straddled the line between the documentary and horror-movie genres.

"Things are going well in New York," Kennedy says. "Moving here just changed a lot of things. New York makes you more visible. For instance, you're constantly meeting people who are showing at the Guggenheim or at MOMA. The level of intensity, everything, is upped 100 percent when you're here."

Carolyn Glasoe concurs with this assessment, once she finds time to sit down and talk. "You cannot compare being here [in New York] to anything," she says. "I've been to a lot of places, but it's been a phenomenal experience for me in a lot of ways....It's a phenomenal place for meeting collectors, making friends, being exposed to great artists and great art."

Glasoe herself, like Kennedy, is from Minnesota. At age 36, she looks deeply Minnesotan, with straight blond hair, a round face, and ice-blue eyes, though she speaks in a very un-Minnesotan way. Imagine a fast-talking, fuhgeddaboutit-spewing, Upper East Side Norwegian shiksa: an impossible cultural contradiction.

For ten years Glasoe co-owned a downtown Minneapolis gallery--Montgomery/ Glasoe. "I have a total affinity for Minnesotans," she says. "They're great and awesome and fabulous." In fact, of the 12 artists represented by Dee/Glasoe, three are Minnesotan.

"I have an affinity for people from a place where there is no information," Glasoe says with a wry smile--then quickly hedges by saying something positive about the Walker Art Center. "If you want to be successful and have an international following for your work, if you want your work to go down in the history books, you need to move to a major art center."

 

If only Carolyn Glasoe had known how close she came to hitting the mark with her dart. The truth is, all manner of artists and actors and writers and musicians of every age, background, and medium leave Minnesota every year. Some, like Kennedy and Glasoe, are looking for better opportunities for themselves. Others are looking to escape what they hate about the state. No less a Prairie Home booster than Garrison Keillor tried to leave for good. As he wrote:

 

Minnesota was a repressive place to grow up in and there's a lot I'd change, even as I think about sunny bygone days in Lake Wobegon. The fear of being different paralyzed every kid I knew, and there was so little room for affection, so much space for cruelty. People didn't have enough fun. Above all we learned to repress the urge to achieve and be recognized, because the punishment for being different was so heavy.

 

In truth, there are two realities concerning the arts in the Twin Cities. Conventional wisdom says we have as fine a lineup of offerings as you will find in a metro area of this size. After all, we've got two orchestras, an opera, an endless variety of dance offerings, a strong writers' (and readers') market, an excellent art museum or two, a few edgy galleries, nonprofit grassroots arts organizations of every stripe, a lively music scene, a nationally prominent regional theater and a thriving small-theater community, and a whole bundle of corporate and foundation money to support all this stuff. Still, these facts are so often repeated that it has become a sort

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