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Dylan Hicks Hosts WPA Revue at the Walker

A mystery photo from 1965. Are you in the picture? Contact wpa@walkerart.org.

A mystery photo from 1965. Are you in the picture? Contact [email protected]

Musician, novelist, and former City Pages arts editor Dylan Hicks hosts an evening of music, theater, and history at the Walker Art Center this Thursday. The event celebrates the Walker People's Archive (WPA), an online crowd-sourced collection of photographs telling the story of the museum through the eyes of people who have experienced it. Joined by actors Lara Blackwood Avery, Bill Schoppert, and Jenny Adams Salmela, plus musicians Jayanthi Kyle and Jeffrey Sugerman, Hicks will be sharing songs inspired by the archive, a fictional play that leads the audience through history, and a slideshow of photographs. 

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The Walker People's Archive borrows its acronym, WPA, from the museum's history as a Works Progress Administration program. In 1939, the Walker transitioned from a private gallery to a public art center thanks to federal dollars and support from the WPA, which was part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. For its 75th anniversary, the museum will celebrate its populist roots with the WPA online album/scrapbook, where anybody can submit photographs they've taken in the center. 

Dylan Hicks was contacted by Ashley Duffalo, who manages the Walker's public and community programs, to create an event celebrating the archive. He worked with Duffalo, as well as the museum's anthropologist Jennifer Stampe, to put together a stage companion of sorts for the WPA. 

At the revue Hicks will serve as emcee, projecting images from the archive and sometimes reading the text submitted with photographs. He's composed a few original songs that he'll perform with singer Kyle and bassist Sugerman. They'll also play a few cover songs. 

Actors will also perform a play consisting of five short scenes. "The premise is that they are a family cooperating with us as part of the program," Hicks says.

One character is a businessman who comes from a prominent Twin Cities family of typewriter barons (museum founder T.B. Walker was a lumber baron). The audience meets him in the mid-1980s, when the typewriter's future is in jeopardy. The businessman in the play has a daughter who also happens to be an aspiring photographer. She sparks a friendship with another woman, whose father was a gallery guard at the museum. "The idea is to have the stories relate thematically to the archive," Hicks says. 

Rather than an institutional or curatorial history of the Walker, the WPA Review "is really just anecdotes and stories," Hicks says. Taken from visitors and staff, the photographs tell the museum's story from the people's perspective. Some of the photographs that date back to the 1950s and '60s are particularly fun, though in some cases there's mystery, as only one person might be identifiable, or the context isn't clear. "It's intriguing, because you don't always know what happened," he says. 

One photograph, submitted by Peggy Georgas, shows her in a fabulous hand-made dress. She finished the hem on the way to the Walker in the car. Other photographs take advantage of the reflective surfaces in the museum, creating a Hall of Mirrors effect. There are sentimental photographs, tributes to parents and people who have passed on, and sillier images, like someone pretending to swallow the Cherry and Spoon. 

The event has a tiny bit of audience interaction, as attendees will be encouraged to play extras at one point. Otherwise, Hicks hopes the 70-minute show will inspire "an outpouring of laughter and tears." 

IF YOU GO:

The WPA Revue

Free

7 p.m. Thursday, January 15

Walker Art Center