A tale of two May Days: HOBT updates and sad news from the unaffiliated MayDay 2020 crew

The MayDay Parade + Festival in Minneapolis' Powderhorn neighborhood

The MayDay Parade + Festival in Minneapolis' Powderhorn neighborhood Adam Iverson

May Day is this weekend. Normally, we’d be celebrating with a parade and festival in Powderhorn Park, but COVID-19—as well as other forces—have changed that.

Back in January 2019, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre announced that it would no longer produce its MayDay Parade and Festival “on its own” after that spring’s event, citing finances, sustainability, and structural issues within the organization. They subsequently laid off more than half of their staff members. 

Still, work continued. In June, HOBT announced a comprehensive community engagement plan, where they invited artists, partners, and neighbors to take part in a process that would re-envision the future of In the Heart of the Beast and its May Day gathering. In October, a release stated that they would return in 2021. 

While this re-envisioned May Day is still under development. The newly elected MayDay Council—made up of artists and community members who are black, indigenous, and people of color—are working along with artist collective Free Black Dirt to find ways to make the event more equitable and accessible. 

“HOBT did not invent White Supremacy, but we have been fostering it in our work in a way that is antithetical to HOBT’s values and have a moral obligation to dismantle White Supremacy embedded in HOBT's process and culture,” the organization states on its website, 

Meanwhile, you might have seen rumblings earlier this year on Instagram that an alternative MayDay Parade was trying to get up and running as well. Well, coronavirus ended those plans. 

“We had initially hoped to postpone [our event], but between fundraising while people are in freefall economically and the fear of being a ‘superspreader’ event… we have completely canceled,” says KJ Starr, one of the board members of MayDay 2020, which is not affiliated with In the Heart of the Beast’s 40-plus year event in any way. “I know some people will be doing their own May Day thing and I hope everybody can honor the day in their own way.“

The idea to host a one-off May Day parade came about last fall. Starr credits founder Jason Heisler, who filed the paperwork to create the nonprofit organization. She also credits artist Dan Polnau in helping to get things started; he died from a heart attack two days before the first board meeting in January. 

Starr also notes that their intention was not to disrupt what HOBT is doing around equity and inclusion. “Everybody involved respects the work they are trying to do,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to push for a smaller event: out of respect for the difficult work that they do.” 

Ultimately their idea was to be a placeholder event, which is one of the reasons “2020” was in the organization’s name. “But really, in the end, May Day happened before In the Heart of the Beast existed,” Starr says. May Day, traditionally celebrated on May 1, is a celebration of spring dating back to the Roman Republic. “It happens all over the world in some form,” she says. 

Regardless, at least two May Day events aren’t happening in 2020. 

“My family will likely bike together to the park,” says Starr.