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APRIL 16, 2012

Changing faces at the Guthrie

A firestorm erupted when the Guthrie, a Minnesota asset whose founding sparked America’s regional theater movement, announced its milestone 50th-anniversary season. All the shows were written and directed by white men. Three years later, the theater’s board would tap Joseph Haj, a visionary director of Palestinian heritage, as leader. Haj broadened the welcome at the Guthrie, hiring women and people of color even as the theater thrived artistically and financially. By 2019, six of the nine directors of its main-stage shows were female. “Plural voices make the work better,” Haj said, while showing that diversity, equity and inclusion are not just buzzwords but cardinal values for a field grappling with how to stay current in a rapidly changing America.

SEPT. 20, 2013

Lizzo’s star is born

Minnesota’s biggest breakout star of the 2010s was just an opening act and backup singer for Har Mar Superstar when we learned with fair certainty that she was bound for glory. On the night of her rapturous solo debut at First Avenue, her first album, “Lizzobangers,” was still a month from being released. Thanks to Current airplay for “Batches & Cookies” and performances with her local groups Grrrl Prty and the Chalice, though, the packed crowd already knew the words to several of the LP cuts. She was still all-hip-hop at that point, but the pop hooks were clear as day. She was still modestly dressed, too, but her “big-grrrl” flair shined through. Lizzo packed the club four more times as a headliner before becoming too big for it — and for Minnesota — in 2017. What took the rest of the world so long to catch on, though?

APRIL 14, 2014

Graywolf wins its second Pulitzer

“I’m trembling from head to toe,” Graywolf Press publisher Fiona McCrae said the day the Pulitzer committee announced that Vijay Seshadri had won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “3 Sections.” The award came just four months after another Graywolf book, Mary Szybist’s “Incarnadine,” won the National Book Award, and two years after future U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith won the press’ first Pulitzer for “Life on Mars.” This flurry of significant awards helped cement Graywolf’s position as one of the nation’s leading publishers of poetry and brought a spotlight to the vitality of the Twin Cities book scene. Minnesota publishers went on to rack up numerous awards during the decade while the Loft Literary Center launched an ambitious book festival, Wordplay, in 2019.

Jan. 1, 2015

Happy birthday to Mia

Kicking off its 100th birthday with a display of artistic cakes, the Minneapolis Institute of Art celebrated a century of museum life with an ambitious yearlong slate of events. Record-setting crowds poured into Mia to see such exhibitions as “The Habsburgs” and “Eros,” a newly purchased giant bronze head by Polish-born sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The museum continued evolving toward more community-oriented exhibits, including one devoted to Philando Castile, the first-ever major museum show of Native women’s art, and photos from the 1970s radical lesbian world — demonstrating that museums are for the people, not just the art elite.

May 16, 2015

The orchestra dances in Havana

One year after a bitter 15-month labor lockout that threatened the Minnesota Orchestra’s very existence, a historic tour to Cuba signaled a fresh start. A festive dinner in Havana’s Cathedral Square provided the a-ha moment. As a Cuban band played dance music, principal cellist Tony Ross — a key negotiator for the musicians — twirled the orchestra board’s vice chairwoman, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, around the cobblestone floor. On one level it was simply a thank-you gesture to the benefactor who helped fund the trip, but it also was a sign that tensions had eased, making way for a moment of joy. From this crucial turning point, the orchestra would go on to tour South Africa in 2018, with a trip to Vietnam and South Korea planned in 2020.

Dec. 1, 2015

Laura Stearns steps forward

Flanked by supporters, theater artist Laura Stearns announced that she had filed a lawsuit against Children’s Theatre Company for abuse she suffered as a teen there in the 1980s. “I was coerced and raped,” she said. “I’m coming out with my name, my face, because I want to create a space where people can feel safe to tell their stories.” It was the first of 16 new lawsuits stemming from the sexual abuse scandal at CTC in the 1970s-’80s. By 2019, all the suits were resolved as the company took responsibility for its failures and vowed to make new efforts on behalf of abuse victims, contributing $500,000 for a fund to support survivors.

April 21, 2016

The night they sang ‘Purple Rain’

Thousands thronged the streets outside First Avenue and Paisley Park after the startling death of the Minnesota music icon from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Minnesotans learned how beloved he was around the world as such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and New Orleans Superdome were lit in purple. Then the floodgates opened — unreleased music finally streaming out of his fabled vault; a bestselling memoir that Prince began writing months before his death; a museum at Paisley; a torrent of photo books by former members of his team. The Purple Reign continues.

MARCH 10, 2017

First Ave rules at the Palace

Opening night at the Palace Theatre — or, more exactly, “reopening” night of the long-shuttered 1916 venue — confirmed a lot of things. Like: Downtown St. Paul is still pretty cool, and so are local hip-hop progenitors Atmosphere, who headlined Night 1 before the Jayhawks and Phantogram finished off the weekend. Biggest of all was how the Palace cemented First Avenue’s foothold in the Twin Cities concert scene. Just 13 years removed from bankruptcy, Minneapolis’ legendary rock club added the now-flourishing, city-owned theater to its portfolio after taking over another St. Paul entertainment landmark, the Turf Club. By decade’s end, First Ave would also own and operate the Fine Line and Fitzgerald Theater while leading the charge for a new riverfront amphitheater. Not bad for a family-owned indie company that was recently dismissed by its corporate competitor as “a little black box.”

May 31, 2017

The Walker surrenders ‘Scaffold’

Protests over “Scaffold” culminated in an extraordinary mediation session between Dakota tribal elders, Walker Art Center leaders and artist Sam Durant, who created the sculpture, a critique of capital punishment based partly on the gallows where 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato following the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Three hours later, they announced that the work — planned as a cornerstone of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — would be turned over to the Dakota for dismantling. “These were acts of genocide, not something to be portrayed between a giant rooster and a cherry,” said Lower Sioux tribal historian Cheyenne St. John. Then-Walker director Olga Viso called the agreement “the first step for the Walker in a long process to rebuild trust.” The event sparked dialogue about trauma felt by Native communities, and how arts institutions might “decolonize.”

NOV. 29, 2017

#MeToo hits Wobegon

When Minnesota Public Radio announced it was severing ties with its most celebrated figure, it carried the impact of a tornado leveling Lake Wobegon. Executives accused “A Prairie Home Companion” creator Garrison Keillor of “dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents” involving a longtime female writer for the show. Other employees spoke of behind-the-scenes conduct that contradicted Keillor’s father-figure image and made him a high-profile target in the growing #MeToo movement. The host, who had turned over his landmark show to Chris Thile a year earlier, denied the charges and found support among die-hard fans, but the damage was done. Thile changed the show’s name and moved it to New York, while Keillor worked on a memoir — and a comeback at decade’s end.