Artists of the Year 2011

Alan Moore, Louis C.K., Bethany Larson, and more

Regan Smith is co-founder and editorial director of Paper Darts Magazine. She lives and works in Minneapolis as a freelance writer and project assistant for Works Progress, an artist-led public design studio.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph

By Kyle "Guante" Tran Myhre

When grappling with the relationship between art and community, a lot of people know how to speak the language. We like projects that "promote social justice," or "reach out to underserved communities," or can effectively use whatever buzzword is fashionable during a given grant cycle. As any poet can tell you, however, there's a big difference between understanding abstract ideas on an intellectual level and making those ideas come alive in concrete, intentional, substantive ways.

Oakland's Marc Bamuthi Joseph is one of the leading performance artists in the country. His work, which mixes spoken word, dance, and theater into something that is at once approachable and avant-garde, isn't afraid to tackle big questions: The break/s, the full-length piece he performed at the Walker Art Center back in 2008, is a daring, one-of-a-kind exploration of hip hop, culture, and identity that never lets anyone—artist, listener, or bystander—off the hook. We all have a role to play, whether we know it or not.

Alan Moore
Kelvin Chan
Alan Moore
Steven Epp
Steven Epp

And it is this focus on community that makes Bamuthi stand out. I know a lot of smart, talented artists; I know very few, however, who are as skilled as Bamuthi in using their art as an entry point to engage in real, sustainable community activism. He returned to the Twin Cities this past August to explore the question "What sustains life in our community?" with local activists and to plant the seeds for a Twin Cities installment of Life Is Living, a traveling festival that strives to make the connections between sustainability, intergenerational health, youth empowerment, the urban arts, and more.

It's an important juxtaposition of issues and ideas, especially when environmental activism, health advocacy, and even the arts are so often perceived as the exclusive domain of well-to-do white people. Bamuthi challenges that notion in a way that, like his art, is both inspiring and accessible, profoundly ambitious and resolutely down-to-earth. He'll be back in March to continue to build with this community, and to present his new show, red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb), at the Walker.

Guante is a hip-hop artist, spoken-word poet, activist, and educator in Minneapolis.

Carrie Brownstein

By Jim Brunzell III

You couldn't wander near a radio in 2011 without hearing female singers such as Adele, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Florence + the Machine, and Katy Perry in the background, but none of their voices matched Wild Flag's Carrie Brownstein's wonderful growling vocals.

Brownstein was part of female "riot grrrl" trio Sleater-Kinney, who broke up in 2006, but in 2011 two of its members, guitarist-singer Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss, teamed up with guitarist-singer Mary Timony (Helium) and keyboardist Rebecca Cole (the Minders) to create the female foursome Wild Flag.

Brownstein hadn't performed music in years, but for her fans the five-year wait has been handsomely rewarded with Wild Flag's self-titled album debut, released this past September. The album is now starting to show up on music critics' best-of-the-year list. The first single, "Glass Tambourine," has been playing frequently on MPR's 89.3 the Current since its release.

Wild Flag wasn't the only way we heard from Brownstein in 2011. She also dabbled in acting, playing an inspiring reality star in the little-seen independent dramedy Some Days Are Better Than Others. And along with Saturday Night Live regular Fred Armisen, she also co-created and co-starred on the IFC comedy series Portlandia. The first season of Portlandia was recently released on DVD, and the second season will premiere January 6. Brownstein and Armisen will be taking Portlandia on the road for a seven-city tour, though unfortunately not to the Twin Cities.

Brownstein was in town, though, when Wild Flag kicked off their official first U.S. tour in Minneapolis at the Varsity Theater in October. There she told a mostly Gen-X crowd, "There's really no better place to start a tour than Minneapolis." Moments later Brownstein, known for wildly energetic movements onstage, kicked her right leg in the air, walked up to the microphone, and began her signature delivery of angst, sounding straight out of her Sleater-Kinney days circa 1997. Rock 'n' roll fans have missed her stage enthusiasm and guitar shredding dearly and desperately.

Jim Brunzell III is the director of programming for the film series Sound Unseen, the creator of "The Defenders" series at the Trylon microcinema, and a writer on film for Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Kenna-Camara Cottman

By Caroline Palmer

Ubiquity is not a qualification for Artists of the Year, nor is it proof that the honor is deserved. But Kenna-Camara Cottman, a choreographer and educator with her own dance company, Voice of Culture Drum and Dance, not only made her striking presence known in several venues over the past 12 months, she did so in memorable ways. Whether bringing hip hop to James Sewell Ballet, performing in Ananya Dance Theatre's powerful Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass, or graciously hosting the Minnesota Sage Awards for Dance, Cottman proved time and again that she is a creative force who rigorously challenges expectations, starting with her own.

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