Twin Cities Thinkers

Meet the Minnesotans shaping our future

"The term he used to use is 'bird-dogging people,'" says Eric Hart, a Greenway board member. "A bird-dog will point at something and just point at it until a master does whatever it's supposed to do."

Now that the greenway is in place, Springer is bird-dogging even bigger quarry: entire roads that are car-free.

"I think it's inevitable," Springer says, "because it makes so much sense."

Tim Springer and Geroge Puzak
Nick Vlcek
Tim Springer and Geroge Puzak
Tom Hoch
Nick Vlcek
Tom Hoch

Designing Cities for the Creative Class

To Tom Hoch, theater is more than just entertainment: It's economic development.

The theater scene, he argues, sets the Twin Cities apart from other Midwestern towns. It's a way to attract smart, educated professionals, and to keep them here.

Hoch has dedicated three decades of his life to Hennepin Avenue. He's played a major role in the restoration of the city's theaters and the creation of the downtown theater district. Now, as president of the Hennepin Theater Trust, Hoch is responsible for the theater's artistic direction, educational programming, and for keeping the seats full.

"More than any leader I've met recently, he really understands how it takes all those things to contribute to having downtown Minneapolis be vibrant from a cultural perspective," says Linda Ireland, a board member of the Hennepin Theater Trust.

Hoch came to his interest in arts thanks to educated parents who regularly took him to the orchestra and the theater while he was growing up.

"That was part of being from Minneapolis," he says. "I felt strongly about it and felt it was part of the DNA of our city."

In the early 1980s, Hennepin Avenue was a ghost town: The sidewalks were cracked and the street furniture rusted. The city's historic theaters were in disrepair: The Pantages was shuttered and the State was operating as a church. The Orpheum was in such bad condition that one performance had to be halted after a chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling into the orchestra pit.

When the city purchased the State Theatre in 1989, Hoch was assigned to oversee the restoration. He worked with Fred Krohn, another longtime theater advocate, to return the theater to its former grandeur.

Just before the State reopened in 1991, the city purchased the Orpheum from its longtime owner, Bob Dylan.

A few years later, Hoch convinced the city to buy the Pantages—then the old Mann movie house—which was slated for demolition.

"You really have to have three theaters to be a theater district," he told the City Council. "Two is not quite enough."

With three theaters open and a real theater district in place, Hoch focused on improving the streetscape. He convinced the city and the downtown business owners to invest in new lighting, sidewalks, and trees.

In 2000, Hoch founded the nonprofit Hennepin Theater Trust. As president, he schedules the majority of the shows and coordinates educational programs for local schools.

"Tom clearly loves theater, but he also loves Minneapolis and has a vision about the role of culture and the role of classic architecture and how those can really contribute to making Minneapolis a vibrant and exciting place," says U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum, who serves on the theater trust's board.

The success of Hennepin Avenue has revitalized downtown. Now Hoch is brainstorming ways to get people to go the theater more often.

"We have all of these large companies, and those companies move people to come here," Hoch says. "And if we don't have a vibrant cultural scene for them, and someone else does, why wouldn't they go to another city?"

Earning Women Their Fair Share

Forcing employers to pay men and women equal wages for comparable work is no easy task, but Aviva Breen made it happen in Minnesota.

For 18 years, Breen was director of the state's Commission on the Economic Status of Women, a nonpartisan research arm of the Legislature.

"Everyone just loves Aviva," says Bonnie Peace Watkins, executive director of the Minnesota Women's Consortium. "She has done so much."

Breen went to work on women's rights after a traditional career path for a woman of her generation: teaching, marriage, motherhood. She moved to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1960 with her husband, a social worker.

When Breen's fourth child reached school age, Breen went to law school. Armed with her degree, she worked at Legal Aid, where she helped pass the Domestic Abuse Act. The law made Minnesota the second state in the country to empower women to file a restraining order without first filing for divorce.

When Breen took over at the commission, most female government employees—teachers, nurses, secretaries—were paid less than men for comparable work. A study found that women working for the state were paid, on average, 69 percent of what men made.

For several years, this information was used at the bargaining table, but Breen also pushed through fair pay legislation that made the biggest difference.

"Aviva's piece of it was getting through the local government pay equity act, which affected way more people," says Watkins. "It affected every county, city, and school district in the state. I believe that's about 163,000 people."

By 1994, women working for the state made 84 percent of their male coworker's salaries, and local governments were reporting areas for improvement to the state.

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