People Issue 2016: Tom Loftus, the uniter

Tom Loftus gets his putt-putt on

Tom Loftus gets his putt-putt on

The City Pages People Issue celebrates ordinary folks who do extraordinary things. Though their triumphs are rarely acknowledged, they make the Twin Cities a better place.

If you want to see Tom Loftus light up, mention these two things: music and mini-golf.

The 38-year-old Coon Rapids native gets audibly excited rattling off obscure band names, which you might expect from his involvement with Modern Radio Record Label. That's the indie imprint he launched fresh out of St. John's University in 1999.

"I liked having this place where everybody could come together — all of the weirdos that were really sharp and really interesting but nobody was paying attention to," Loftus says, noting that he modeled Modern Radio after beloved indies like Touch and Go and Kill Rock Stars. "It was born out of my interest to be part of this magic."

For Loftus and label co-owner Peter Mielech, Modern Radio was never a plausible day job. "You could make money doing all sorts of legal and illegal things way easier," Loftus points out. Nevertheless, he poured his excitement into the project, bringing the world smart bands like Killsadie, STNNNG, and Fury Things. The enduring label celebrated its 16th anniversary last week with two nights of live music. 

His other passion surfaced around the time he met partner Robin Schwartzman at the 2011 Northern Spark arts fest. Loftus had recently traded his boozy, rock 'n' roll late nights for the kitschy, pastoral pleasures of mini-golf. After a first date with Schwartzman at Big Stone Mini Golf in Minnetrista, the pair discovered a mutual love for the sport.

The lovebirds wrote about mini-golf for their blog, A Couple of Putts, and for the Walker Art Center magazine. They would even help design arty putt-putt holes for the museum's annual Artist-Designed Mini Golf course.

Through the surreal fortune of the great cosmic putter in the sky, Loftus and Schwartzman — an artist with experience in fabrication — were presented with an unusual opportunity in 2014: an invite to help students design prototype mini-golf holes at the Virginia Commonwealth University satellite campus in...Doha, Qatar?

"We get over there and it was just a total trip," Loftus says of the artists-in-residence stint. Working with the eager, risk-taking, iPhone-toting Middle Easterners was fascinating, he says, and ran counter to stereotypes perpetuated by Western media. The pair returned in early 2015 to present and run mini-golf workshops at the Tasmeem Doha conference. 

"We could see this game was bringing imagination and excited people together," he says of his experiences in Qatar. 

Which is exactly the thread that ties Loftus' far-flung pursuits together.

"There's so much working in the world that feels overwhelming and shitty and drives people apart," he says. "To be a part of those things that do the exact opposite of that is really important to me. That's what I'm always chasing after — to find creative solutions to problems in the world, and to hopefully create more opportunities so we can sit back, play mini-golf, and listen to music."

Click here to read the rest of our People Issue 2016 profiles.