Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Just like the food you eat, the music on a radio station should contain a healthy variety. Minnesota Public Radio's the Current offers a rich diet of local and new music, with a generous helping of important older songs, a range of styles, and no unhealthy commercial additives. The Current's main course is predominantly non-Top 40 rock from that seemingly indefinable genre of "indie" music. It also routinely dishes out the best up-and-comers on small labels unheard on almost all other radio stations in the Twin Cities. But Current DJs never fall into the trap of being so snobbish as to not play something simply because it is widely popular. The Current also serves up locally produced shows devoted to hip hop and Minnesota music. The Current's website makes the perfect dessert for its musical radio feast. It offers fresh podcasts, well-written blogs, and a daily free song download that's actually worth listening to.
It's a rare performer who can transmit the truth of his character while at the same time seeming to provide an anchor and touchstone for those around him on the stage. Penumbra stalwart James Craven consistently brings a soulful complexity to the roles he plays, while lending authenticity to every scene in which he appears by virtue of his studied, gravity-filled reactions. He lent a complicated mix of motives to his football coach in Redshirts at Penumbra in the last year, then mixed things up as a storefront dance teacher in Get Ready. It was his work as Doaker in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, though, that stood out most of all. It was an authoritative, searching piece of acting to match the greatness of Wilson's text.
Sarah Agnew is the very definition of "range." In the last year she lent Shavian barbs to the Guthrie's Major Barbara, then anchored the Blue Battleship's nicely realized premiere of Brian Friel's The Home Place with a light touch that underscored the work's conflicted take on Irish sovereignty. Most recently she appeared in the one-woman The Syringa Tree at the Jungle, a completely assured and accomplished evening that compelled her to play a little girl, her mother, and myriad members of an apartheid-era South African household. Surely someone so versatile has boatloads of craft to draw on; Agnew's trick is to always make her work seem freshly inspired.
One of the great tragedies of the local talk-radio landscape is that the two lunatic geniuses of the AM dial both work their pathos from noon to 2 p.m. weekdays. This means that in the unlikely event you're actually near a radio during the midday hours, you have to choose between the maniacal ramblings of Tommy Mischke and the droll tomfoolery of Dan Cole. It also means there's undoubtedly more dead air and missed commercial breaks during this span of 120 minutes than during all other hours of the day combined. For reasons that we can't back up with any scientifically valid theories, we usually find ourselves gravitating toward the Common Man during our lunch break. Cole's shtick just seems better suited to the daylight hours. It's also fitting that the self-proclaimed laziest man in broadcasting insists on eating his lunch while fulfilling his two hours of daily labor. Cole's preposterous opinions about professional sports, backed up by an endless arsenal of clichés, are particularly amusing when rubes who don't get the joke call in to express indignation at his lack of sound reasoning. In recent months Dan from Woodbury has added the NostraCommonus bit, in which the host predicts—based on a Byzantine array of factors known only to Cole—the outcomes of sporting events. But basically he's been recycling the same vapid jokes since he joined KFAN 16 years ago. Remarkably, this somehow makes the Common Man's send-up of sports-talk radio all the more hilarious.
Patricia Briggs knows what to say about art, but more importantly, she draws out the inner critic of viewers, too. In her talks in museums, classrooms, and galleries, her savvy, dynamic questions inspire audiences to talk about visual art from personal, local, and international perspectives. Briggs, an MCAD professor of art history and critical studies, independent curator, and local critic, approaches art criticism with an emphasis on conversation and collaboration. She makes regular visits to artists' studios and conducts interviews, then conveys the important issues and questions she discovers to her students and audiences. In addition to publishing her reviews in a number of local venues, including mnartists.org, Briggs gives a national and international voice to Twin Cities artists through her contributions to respected journals such as Artforum and Art Papers.
Few commercial ventures offer more risk than art galleries. Sure, paintings, sculpture, assemblages, and whatnot are solid investments...as long as you buy the right ones. They're also one of the first things even the most passionate aficionado passes on when times get hard. Factor in a fickle public and an extremely low looker-to-buyer ratio, and opportunities for ruination lurk in every clean, well-lit corner. Some local galleries—the mighty SooVAC and Midway Contemporary Arts, for example—fashion elaborate safety nets from private donations and foundation money, while the likes of Shoebox and Placement forge alliances with other local businesses. But First Amendment finances art with, well, art. The compact exhibition area in the gallery's northeast Minneapolis warehouse space opens onto graphic powerhouse Burlesque of North America's production facility, a huge room filled with the printing gear that helps pay the gallery's bills and provides added visual excitement when opening-night crowds inevitably spill over. First Amendment's principals—Mike Davis, Todd Bratrud, Lonny Unitas, Wes Winship, Aaron Horkey, resident DJ Mike the 2600 King, et al.—are all respected artists in their own right, with far-reaching connections, dead-on curatorial instincts, and a profound understanding of their clientele's budgets. To wit: You can walk out of First Amendment full-handed for less than you'd spend on a night of serious drinking. Add live entertainment from Calvin Johnson, Building Better Bombs, and a slew of other local and national luminaries, a substantial presence at SXSW 2008, a commitment to DJ culture demonstrated every Tuesday at the Triple Rock's Triple Double blowouts, and voila!—a formidable institution, built from the ground up by a crew that has been hanging out since high school, when a collective love of graffiti brought them together.