Alec Soth, Kevin Kramp, Robyn, and more: Artists of the year

Influential artists of 2010

Over the years, I've happened on Proctor's work mostly by accident. His mysterious sculptures crafted from buckthorn but resembling giant alien dandelions swayed over the Winchell Trail along the West River Parkway in Minneapolis from 2005 to 2006. At first glance, I thought "The Buckthorn Menace" was simply a guerrilla response to efforts to clear the invasive species from the Mississippi riverbanks. It was, but it was also a transformation of botanical material into global warning.

Procter's shows last summer at the Swan Song Gallery in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, and currently at the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, renewed my attention to his astounding technical proficiency and marvelous—if often terrifying—creatures.

Through his sculptures, Proctor ushers us into the deep woods of our imaginations where nature and culture get tangled up with memory and image. And that's what else acorns are good for.

Camille LeFevre is an arts journalist and teaches arts journalism at the University of Minnesota, which she writes about on her blog, Mélange (

The Playwrights' Center

By Mo Perry

Photo: Kevin McLaughlin

When I graduated from college, I watched dozens of my fellow theater majors fling themselves all over the country, with the great majority landing in actor-magnets New York City and L.A. Over the past seven years, I've observed their accomplishments with affection and pride, but never once have I wished that I had followed suit.

The Twin Cities offers something you can't find in the bigger markets, a certain je ne sais quoi that can't be attributed simply to its smaller population (or else Des Moines would share our reputation as a Midwestern theater mecca). "Community" is often cited as that elusive something, and that is surely part of it, but what is it that nurtures that community here as opposed to elsewhere?

One of the reasons is organizations like the Playwrights' Center. For nearly 30 years it has attracted theater writers and directors to the Twin Cities, kept local actors working on exciting, paid projects between full productions, encouraged networking and collaboration with artists from all over the country and beyond, and generally put Minneapolis on the map as a fertile breeding ground for new theatrical works. 

This year, Polly Carl stepped down as producing artistic director, handing the reins of the institution she helped create to Jeremy Cohen. The transition didn't slow down the ambitious daily work of the center, which, in its 2009-10 season, employed 179 actors, conducted 68 workshops and readings, offered 13 classes and seminars, added its 1,000th member playwright, re-granted $200,000 to playwrights and theater artists, and worked with 33 colleges and universities.

As one of the actors the center employed this year, I know firsthand how invaluable it is to the theatrical landscape. A paycheck for acting, rare and wonderful as it is, pales in comparison to the more ineffable quality of community, creativity, innovation, and vibrancy one feels, for instance, working on a new play by an Obie Award-winning New York City playwright with eight of the finest actors in the Twin Cities. The Playwrights' Center's contributions to local theater are immeasurable, and the next chapter in its legacy, under Jeremy Cohen, is ready to unfold.

Mo Perry is an actor and writer.  In early 2011 she will appear in the Children's Theater Company's production of Babe the Sheep Pig and in Gremlin Theater's Uncle Vanya.


By Nate Patrin

Photo: Chris Woodcock

A dozen albums in a year? It's a good start.

Madlib—hip-hop producer, musical curator, and the hardest-working marijuana enthusiast in recorded history—cut through the pretense of social-media-era content churn and mixtape overload by creating Madlib Medicine Show, a proposed album-a-month series that brought a new idea to the table with every installation.

You don't spend as much time hoarding LPs and building beats as he does without learning the nuances that make different genres tick, and the mixes in this series were a curriculum of exhumed vinyl curios that all bore his unmistakably concentrated, cleverly absurd imprint. Wig-out Tropicalia and MPB (No. 2: Flight to Brazil); heavy, bleary-eyed reggae (No. 4: 420 Chalice All-Stars); eccentric, comedy-addled psych rock (No. 6: The Brain Wreck Show); the outer edge of post-bop and fusion (No. 8: Advanced Jazz); suit-and-tie disco-floor R&B (No. 10: Black Soul)—they all bristle with the simultaneous thrills of deep contextual knowledge and archeological discovery.

That sensibility carries over into Madlib's original production showcases, the odd-numbered entries in the series. These collections are a microcosm of his style, from the West Coast backpacker prototype years (No. 5: History of the Loop Digga, 1990-2000) to his current underground abstract phase (No. 11: Low Budget High Fi Music) and his sideline in chameleonic one-man, cut-and-paste jazz ensemble work (No. 7: High Jazz).

On top of that, he somehow found the time to produce excellent records by Strong Arm Steady (In Search of Stoney Jackson) and Guilty Simpson (OJ Simpson). Oh yeah, and a new Madvillain single, "Papermill," that's the most dirty-funk-ass track MF Doom has graced with his presence in a long time.

With the 2010 agenda he just pulled off, Madlib has earned himself an extended break for the next 12 months. Maybe he'll slow down a bit and only release a half-dozen records.

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