— TCDP Arts (@ArtsOrbit) July 25, 2012
- Lists a bunch of facebook and twitter posts by local people and organizations that essentially amount to “Yay! Congratulations! Exciting!”
- Points out that opening a space in Lowertown is risky for numerous reasons, with a list of questions on related issues. In a nutshell: transportation and access, attracting people from Minneapolis, effectively engaging in the lowertown community, and Bedlam potentially getting stretched too thin when they do try to open a new Minneapolis location in addition to the St. Paul space.
The social media quotes include those that I posted as Irrigate and as myself, and some of the comments, replies and retweets that we got off of that. None of which were very memorable or controversial. I wouldn’t exactly list my “yay, happy clapping” retweet as a superb accomplishment in 140 character composition. It’s certainly true that the news has gotten lots of positive response; the link to the MPR article that I posted on the Irrigate page got significantly more “likes” than average and we are just one of a gobjillion pages that posted about it over the past day and a half. Yet personally, I’m left wondering: okay, umm, cute, you follow all of my multiple internet personalities, I follow all of yours, we operate in the same social media sphere, and everybody we know is saying happy words about Bedlam. So you are cataloguing them and making an article out of them. I don’t really count that as “journalism” and am tempted to just say “whoop de doo.” What’s the point? It feels a bit like reaching for an angle that just isn’t there. The questions posed at the end about the future of the project also kind of make me go “Yeah, duh. Opening any kind of business is a risk. Opening an art performance related business, even more so. So what?”
Okay, I’m being a bit harsh. And rather jaded. While it does take up at least ¾ of the entire article, you could argue the social media mashup was intended as a light-hearted introduction to the topic, and I should probably stop giving Jay a hard time about it now. ArtsOrbit is trying to get a discussion going about the challenges Bedlam will face when it takes over the former Rumours & Innuendo Nightclub space. I can put in my two cents about that, since he/they asked nicely, even though I don’t really feel all that qualified to do so.
Some background and disclosure first: I have lived all over the Twin Cities including St. Paul’s Mac Groveland, Minneapolis’ Uptown, and the strange itty bitty suburb north of St. Paul known as Little Canada. I was a City of St. Paul Americorps Vista member, which included some very brief, probably not very helpful volunteer work with Joe Spencer in the summer of 2007 in relation to the Cultural Star Grant program. I’m a self-declared Springboard groupie and manage the social media communication for the Irrigate project which is mobilizing artists in creative placemaking along the central corridor in St. Paul (including Lowertown). I house manage for the Minnesota Fringe Festival every year and have developed a lot of ties and friendships within the local performing arts community. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent the stance of Springboard for the Arts, Minnesota Fringe, or any other entity to which I am loosely affiliated.
Clearly, I want Bedlam to succeed. I want Lowertown to thrive.
Having never owned a theater/bar/nightclub space myself, I don’t feel like I have much expertise in this department. I tend to feel more comfortable writing about the performance events that would go on inside such a venue rather than extrapolate on its potential business success. All I can muster up in some form of an opinion is that yes, it is a risk, but Bedlam has a very strong, particularly devoted and enthusiastic following in the Twin Cities. Combined with other efforts to continue developing Lowertown’s artistic identity and vibrancy (uh oh, there’s another one of those highly contested buzzwords), including the intentional infusion of live music spearheaded by Joe Spencer in Mayor Coleman’s office, creative placemaking and public art via Irrigate and Public Art St. Paul, and the opening of the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s new gallery in the Pioneer-Endicott Building, I have no reason not to hope and suspect that both Bedlam and Lowertown are poised to make the most of this move.
On first hearing of plans for the new space, my hunch was that one key to success would be to avoid a nostalgic attempt to duplicate the old West Bank Bedlam experience and instead start out with openness to all the possibilities that a new Lowertown version of Bedlam could become, jumping off the support of their existing fanbase while reaching out to a unique new set of potential audience members and collaborators. The goals stated by Executive Artistic Director John Beuche in MPR’s coverage make it clear that Bedlam is all about awareness and careful listening to what the community wants, “guided by the principle of art needing to meet the audience where the audience is, and on the audience’s terms.” I love this mantra and it reassures me that we will see great things from them in future locales just as we did in the West Bank.
Having been privy to a few murmurings from fellow event organizers that attracting the local community of Lowertown artists is not always as easy as one might think, I would also urge my fellow visual artists in the many artist coop buildings to take full advantage of having Bedlam on the block. If you want to get more people into your studio during the Art Crawl, getting out of the studio and intermingling with the larger arts community is a strategy I cannot promote highly enough. Seeing theatre and meeting people in the performing arts scene has positively impacted my art business via sales and new collaboration possibilities, and seeing experimental and innovative dance, theater, storytelling and spoken word often inspires and informs the actual content of my paintings and drawings. If artists are open to it, convenient access to performance work that is philosophically, intellectually and creatively challenging could be a powerful impetus that sparks more engaging and thought-provoking artmaking.
A significant risk factor pointed out in ArtsOrbit is transportation and access in the interim period before the Green Line light rail is complete. Honestly, I think I’m beginning to develop an internal nervous tick when I see media over-emphasizing the idea that it is difficult to get to and see things in St. Paul. I wince a little bit whenever I hear a radio DJ promoting an arts or culture event in the capital city, but then tagging on the defeatist line “So, if you happen to already be on the other side of the river…” St. Paul seems doomed to be the perpetual “other” city. This type of language undermines the very event being promoted by suggesting that it is not good enough to warrant driving 12 miles or so without some other excuse to be in the neighborhood. Can’t a music or performance event or art opening BE the primary reason? I am frankly not all that likely to say to myself “Hey, I really want to go have dinner in Lowertown tonight. I guess while I’m there I might as well catch a show to go along with my meal.” But turn that logic the other way around, and you’ve pretty much defined my current socializing srategy. Secondly, buying into that “St. Paul is inevitably just a little inferior and always will be” attitude risks alienating listeners/followers who actually live or work in St. Paul.
I do get it that right now, the construction is a pain in the butt in many areas. Last week I came uncomfortably close to missing the 4:30 delivery deadline for my Artist Initiative grant application due to yucky I-94 traffic combined with getting stuck in lanes downtown that just ended without any warning or a safe option for merging before smacking into parked cars. Closures of I-94 are having a negative impact on pretty much everyone and everything everywhere. I can only imagine that getting to Lowertown via public transportation these days is not exactly a piece of cake, and my heart goes out to the many businesses on University who have to hang desperate looking signs about parking and where to turn to actually get customers to them through the construction. I’m dismayed to hear this morning (also via the TC Daily Planet) that the Edge Coffeeshop might add its name to the list of construction casualties. But eventually the complaints about driving just make me want to say: Buck up and deal with it. Most of the time it’s not nearly as bad as you think it is, and our local businesses and neighborhoods are worth taking a little extra time to get to if the entertainment, food, or other amenities they offer match what you are looking for.
I doubt this disjointed rant was the type of opinionating Jay was hoping for. It’s pretty rambling, but I don’t think he, of all people, would dare to call it too tangential, would he?
Update: Portions of this post have now been added to the original Twin Cities Daily Planet piece. Jay also addresses my skepticism about using social media snippets as fodder for articles in an explanation here. It has an amusing picture of two very animated people having some sort of “OMG me too!” moment in front of a freakishly electric blue water cooler.