Number 50: Andy Sturdevant
Years spent living in MN: 6
Man-about-town Andy Sturdevant is impossible to miss in a crowd. This probably has something to do with the fact that he is tall, bearded, and always impeccably dressed (an impressive feat considering that he often commutes via bike).
Over the past couple years the Kentucky native has made an impression on the Twin Cities' scene as a writer, artist, and curator (most notably at the Soap Factory). He has written pieces for Paper Darts, Heavy Table, and Mpls. St. Paul Magazine, as well as regularly posting on South 12th, his always entertaining blog. He has also published his artwork in various publications, from Lutefisk Sushi to City Pages' Comix Issue.
As the host of Salon Saloon, a monthly lecture series that explores the creative process in a playful, dynamic, and unpretentious talk-show format, Sturdevant brings together various artists, writers, and performers to share stories, pose questions, and offer advice.
Many of his projects are the types of interactive events that you have to experience directly in order to fully appreciate them. Past endeavors of this nature include last June's Northern Spark's Mississippi Megalops, an art and performance boat party on a sternwheeler paddleboat, and the upcoming Common Room, an adventure tour that will send participants through the city each Wednesday this August.
Oh, and in the coming months he plans to live in a thrift store in North Carolina. Now how creative is that?
One is the periodical stacks at the Minneapolis Central Library. I will never tire of going in there and digging up ancient culture and arts magazines from the Twin Cities' past. The third floor, where they're located, is so quiet, too, so it's easy to find a good place to read. Grab a pile of something obscure like New Twin Citian or Goldflower and you enter into this bizarre mid-century version of Minneapolis-St. Paul that's very recognizable in some ways, and completely alien in others.
Second is all the vacant storefronts on East Lake Street. I bike or take the 53 bus down that corridor and I am always impressed by the sheer amount of beautiful storefronts and warehouses that are sitting empty and waiting for someone to move in and do something exciting with them.
The last is the illustrator Leanne Shapton. She does a lot of work for the New York Times' editorial page -- these really beautifully drawn explorations of memory and history.
Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:
One thing was definitely the great comic strips of the 1980s: Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and especially Bloom County. They were geared towards kids (well, maybe not Doonesbury exactly), but they were so smart and knowing. On one level, Bloom County is a funny slapstick fantasy about a talking penguin and his friends, but on another level, it was training for how to talk to smart adults: be a little sarcastic, a little skeptical, a little idealistic, and be sure you know your current events back and forth.
Another thing was the Scholastic New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia, which my parents bought from an honest-to-god traveling door-to-door salesman in the early 1980s; he was the last of his kind, I'm sure. Those kept me occupied for hours.
The third would probably be Goodwill. Mom took me shopping for clothes at Goodwill as a kid all the time, and I hated the stigma, until I realized you could buy striped pants and wide ties and suit jackets and any other sort of old-looking clothing and wear them as regular clothes. So I did, for the next 20 years. Hell, I sort of still do.
What was your last big project?
In May, I showed some new work at the Dressing Room, a series of screen-printed portraits of Minneapolis artists of the 1960s. In June, I helped Works Progress host Mississippi Megalops, a multimedia paddleboat tour down the Mississippi for part of the Northern Spark Festival. This summer I also wrote an essay for PHONEBOOK 3, a national guide to artist's projects published in Chicago with a lot of really exciting contributors.
What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?
Me and Sergio Vucci will be launching the third season of our Common Room project at the Soap Factory on August 10. In past years, we've put together these monthlong series of participatory events in a refurbished 1940s office space at the Soap. This year, we'll be using the space as a hub for launching four weekly tours around the city on Wednesday nights.
Also, the next season of Salon Saloon will begin October 25. Plus, I'll be ducking out of the state for a few weeks in September for a residency at the Elsewhere Collaborative in Greensboro, North Carolina. For three weeks, I'll be living out of a thrift store.
Creative/career high point (so far)?
The end of every Salon Saloon show always seems like a high point, when all these smart, amazing guests from all these wildly varying disciplines are up onstage singing some dubious pop song with me. I love telling people back home that I host a monthly art talk show in a bowling alley. That makes it sound like I am really living the Midwestern dream.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
I think for me the most difficult thing is trying to figure out how to incorporate a lot of different disciplines and interests into one coherent practice without seeming completely unfocused or like a dilettante. I still don't handle the "What is it you do, exactly?" question very gracefully. "Uh, sort of write, and make, uh, art, except..."
How has the local scene changed since you began your career?
Six years seems like such a short amount of time, so it's hard to say, especially not having any firsthand experiences with what the Twin Cities were like before 2005. I'd say in that amount of time there's been a growing interest in site-specific work outside of white-wall spaces -- a lot of art events and performances seem to be happening in public, reclaimed, nontraditional, or outdoor spaces. Even the Walker has moved a large chunk of its annual programming outside in the form of Open Field.
Of course, the corollary is that it seems sometimes as if there's fewer small, traditional spaces. Creative Electric and Art Of This are two where I saw great work, and that no longer exist in that form.
Name one thing you own that you wish you could throw away:
I really can't think of a lot. I have a pretty small apartment and I'm not very sentimental about most objects. A few years ago the answer probably would have been "my car," but I eventually did that. I hated driving and parking in the winter so much it ruined the rest of the year for me, so I chucked it.
With a snap of your fingers your favorite book will get a sequel. It's guaranteed to be good one. Which one do you choose? Why?
Peter Guralnick's Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. It's a terrible, tragic story of wasted talent; I'd fix it so that at the end Elvis fires Colonel Parker and sets out on his own.
In the sequel, Elvis coverts to Judaism and spends a couple of years in the Mojave Desert as a mystic, then comes back, makes an album of Danzig covers with Rick Rubin, wins an Oscar for his role in Reservoir Dogs, and prevents George W. Bush from becoming president by galvanizing support for repeal of the 22nd Amendment in the late '90s so that his friend Bill Clinton is elected to a third and fourth term. Then he dies of a heart attack while singing the National Anthem at Clinton's fourth inaugural and everyone agrees it was a a great life.
Do you have a suggestion for someone whose work we should be checking out? Feel free to leave your top picks in the comments.
Past creatives, so far: