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Red Art Speaks: a Dream Lodge conversation series

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Kohl Miner (Ho-Chunk Nation) gained notoriety in the Twin Cities during the 1980s and '90s as a playwright, actor, and spoken-word artist appearing at such venues as the Southern, the Walker, and In the Heart of the Beast before leaving Minnesota and eventually becoming a Resource Development Specialist. When he returned to town three years ago for an Emerging Leadership Fellowship, everyone here still thought of him as a writer and performer, and began asking him to read. For a year, he went to readings regularly -- nearly every other week -- and what he discovered was how few professional Native Americans artists were working in the Twin Cities.

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There was one group of performers that got Miner thinking. "Their work was amazing. It was very powerful. But when I looked at the audience, they weren't feeling the same thing. It really baffles me." He realized that the reason the audience didn't connect was because the performers weren't trained. "They mumbled," he says. "They didn't make eye contact."  

That's when he decided that he wanted to form Dream Lodge, an arts service organization whose mission it is to support Native American artists by offering resources, rehearsal/performance space, business development, a supportive community, and exposure. "There are a lot of people out there who are at that emerging level," Miner says. "And because we have such a dire need for cultural icons -- I mean, we really don't have any -- I saw that we have a need for Dream Lodge."  
One of its first projects is called Red Art Speaks, a six-part conversation series program. The next installment will be on Thursday, May 26 at the Guthrie Theater, where rap artist Chase Manhattan and community advocate Deanna Standing Cloud will be facilitating a discussion with multimedia artist Mona Smith and Radio Show host Martha Fast Horse. Lynn Steele of Steele Casting will also be there to speak with Native Americans interested in pursuing acting careers.  

According to Miner, the purpose of the Red Art Speaks series is "to promote critical thinking skills within the Native community." He hopes the series will get the conversation going about arts in the Native community. Miner wants Native Americans to become advocates for themselves and advocates for the community. "By promoting critical thinking skills, our young people will begin to take on that added responsibility of community work." 

Kohl Miner at Red Art Speaks event

Kohl Miner at Red Art Speaks event

The arts can be a great conduit to critical thinking, he says. After all, everyone listens to music, and laughter is one of the best ways to educate a person. "There's something about the arts that pulls people outside the political community. We resonate with it."

Other programs that Dream Lodge has in the works include an upcoming grant-writing workshop, and a residency at Nawayee Center School with the Acting Company from New York City. Two Native American actors will attend the residency and learn the curriculum in order to teach the skills to the entire community. Then in January next year, Dream Lodge will hold a year-round performance workshop. "Our goal is to turn artistic passions into viable careers," Miner says.

Red Art Speaks takes place on Thursday, May 26 from 5 to 6:45 p.m. at the Guthrie Theater at 818 South Second Street in Minneapolis.