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?

Another problem that artists in Minnesota grapple with is their sense of being removed from national trends. "In the Twin Cities, you can be huge," says Finn, "but it can be a little bit isolated."

Local gallery director John Ballinger, of Midway Contemporary Art, seconds that theory and believes those feelings drive artists away. "Maybe it's because Minnesota people aren't seeing enough elsewhere to know where things are at now," he says. "To understand what's going on in the scene and make work that is current, you need to go to New York, see a lot of shows, and see new work."

"The fact that Minneapolis is not the center of the universe makes it great in one way, in terms of basic economics," says Oakland's Steven Matheson. "But the arts scene can be very provincial and can be very small....If I go to openings, I see the same people always....You go to a few openings and you've kind of done the circuit."

In the end, though, despite the strong points of its art market, Minnesota just can't keep certain upward-minded arts people satisfied. As Carolyn Glasoe says, echoing the sentiments of many former Minnesotan artists: "I will never live in Minnesota again, for a number of different reasons. I have a lot of friends there, but my lifestyle won't let me. For what I do and what I'm interested in, there's just not enough of it there."

 

Whatever the reasons for artists to migrate, the effect of this endless exodus is keenly felt by the community that remains behind. "It's such a transient world," says Julie Dalgleish of the local scene. "I think the shock waves are more personal than professional."

When the best artists leave, the region loses national prestige and local confidence. It's a brain drain that drags down the overall quality of what goes on here.

"Yeah, it's a loss," says Tim Peterson, director of Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis. "It'd be nice to see artists be able to have an art career here, and have a sense of history that goes back in time....But it's too much of a lure for artists, for filmmakers, for any number of people in different areas." (Peterson's brother Andrew, a filmmaker, moved to New York some five years ago.)

"If it were my preference," says local video artist Jenny Lion, "it would be for the community to stay as full and keep as many experienced people here as possible." Lion is the partner of Steven Matheson, who now makes his home in Oakland. They are separated for most of the year, though she says she wants to stay in town. "I understand that people need different levels of stimulus or have different needs for their careers....I can understand that people have to leave."

Along with regret, the Minnesota artistic migration provokes a variety of other emotional responses. "People feel a little betrayed and left behind whenever someone leaves," says the Fringe Festival's Leah Cooper. "There's also a sense of jealousy and wondering if maybe it's time to look at leaving too. You can't help but think that--'maybe I'm not following my career like I should.' ...I also think that Minnesotans begin to think that maybe they're not as good as other places. The idea that people are leaving seems to confirm that, whether or not it's true. It's a shame."

Other people take a more accepting--or perhaps resigned--view. "My policy is always an open door," says the Jungle's Bain Boehlke of the collaborators who flock elsewhere. "Follow your guiding light. If you want to go [other places], it's fine with me....On the contrary, I'd regret it if some sort of loyalty factor kept you from following the work."

Still, it is easy to feel emotional when talking about a broken community, severed ties, and clipped relationships. This is true even of critics, who, though they exist on the edge of the art community, still are members of it. One of the more melancholic aspects of writing about arts in a place like the Twin Cities is dealing with the comings and goings. Critics generally relish following the careers of artists they admire, seeing how their expressive skills ripen over the course of time. And we take delight in seeing the artists gain success, even feeling a small sense of vicarious ownership of that success. When such an artist moves on, there is a letdown.

Some members of the artistic community who stay in Minnesota over the long term never get over wondering about what could have been. "A lot of people are always leaving town," says local painter Nancy Robinson, who got her start as an artist back in the late 1970s, just as a large group of young people were getting set to leave. "I remember them trying to talk me into going. They all said, 'We're going to New York. Come on!' I didn't go because I was a scared bunny at that point....But we read back then about famous artists [being] like rock stars. They had tons of money. So everyone thought, 'I'll go out there and see what happens to me'...My question is, Did they go on to have other lives? Are they famous and I just don't know about it?"

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