What an onslaught. And yet Minnesota artists persisted, creating and sharing amidst the constraints of isolation, disease and social injustice. MinneCulture producers at KFAI found innovative ways to work around the pandemic and through the unrest, connecting us with timely art and history stories from around the state. The year was terrible, but the work was a triumph. Here are our editors’ picks for Most Memorable Stories of 2020.
The year started in ordinary fashion—Minnesotan artists doing their thing, KFAI producers sharing their stories. Producer Anna Stitt gave us a beautiful story about the Voices of Hope women’s prison choir, Emily Bright brought us a story about a Hmong hip-hop artist who performed alongside his grandma, Dixie Treichel introduced us to interdisciplinary artist and dancer DejaJoelle, and KFAI program director Mason Butler profiled a film fest that actually encourages audiences to heckle.
But around mid-March, with the arrival of the novel coronavirus and the drop of an executive order, the live events industry all but vanished. Many local artists rallied and moved their work online, like DJ Shannon Blowtorch and MPLS Adonia. Their Tuesday night installations of “Quarantine Live: Online Dance Party” caught the attention of KFAI’s Dixie Treichel, who filed this bumpin’ audio portrait.
During the stay-at-home orders, Polish American artist and MCAD professor Piotr Szyhalski turned to drawing. Working in his basement, he responded to news reports about the pandemic by making incisive drawings that utilize sharply drawn humor to criticize America’s response to the coronavirus crisis. KFAI’s Sheila Regan filed this report.
Season 3 of the MinneCulture Podcast rebooted with original interviews and audio dairies, sharing pandemic stories from a poet, a dancer, a rapper, and a chef. Then on May 25, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Protests and unrest swept the Twin Cities. The podcast team hit the streets to find out how artists would respond and what art might emerge from the destruction of entire blocks in the Twin Cities. KFAI’s Nancy Rosenbaum, Anna Stitt, Emily Bright, Melissa Olson and Ryan Dawes produced this podcast episode.
Musician Taylor Seaberg lived just blocks from 38th and Chicago where Floyd was killed. They organized and co-produced a BIPOC community album featuring artists who performed at Floyd’s memorial site. On the album is a track called “Pandemonium” written in response to both the pandemic and the killing of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Again, KFAI’s Sheila Regan was on it.
The History Theater in St. Paul was slated to stage the world premier of a new musical in May, but COVID-19 wrecked that plan. We did a story on it anyway. Emily Bright filed this one about the historic controversy that inspired “Runestone: The Rock Musical.” By far, this story had the most lively comments section on our facebook page. Who knew a rock might inspire such debate?
June is documentary season at KFAI’s MinneCulture and this year’s crop brought us excellent storytelling on Minnesota arts and history. As 2020 brought the centennial anniversary of both Prohibition and Suffrage, Fulbright fellow and podcaster Katie Thornton revealed how the two movements were intertwined. Here’s “A Brief History of Women in Bars: A Minnesota Story in Three Rounds.”
Then, producer Anna Stitt unveiled her gigantic storytelling feat, “Fighting Back: The Rise of Anti-Racist Action in Minneapolis,” chronicling the rise of anti-racist skinheads who organized to fight white power movements in the Twin Cities. Told through vivid first-person accounts, archival audio, and music from the era, Anna’s doc starts under the railroad tracks in Uptown, Minneapolis and traces a movement that continues to shape the U.S. to this day.
James Napoli’s documentary “Stay Young, Go Dancing” reminded us of the warm embrace of a maskless dance partner in his oral history of one of the Midwest’s most revered polka venues, the Gibbon Ballroom. Dive into the polka scene of rural Minnesota right now. It’ll make you grin.
Returning to the present and the pandemic, as COVID summer 2020 wrapped up, Paul Brohaugh from KFAI’s Poetry, Science and Wrestling brought us a story about an aquatic twist on the drive-in theater. This story features a brief cameo by a cat in a canoe. Listen here:
And lastly, Colleen Cowie reported on the First Love Project, sharing a the story behind a labor love organized by musicians and fans in support of the famed First Avenue.
Thank you to all our producers, the KFAI staff, community radio listeners and the artists who make our work so rewarding.
Support for MinneCulture on KFAI comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.