Friday, November 30, 2012

Bones and Steel: Six Minutes with Sculptor Sam Spiczka

I met Sam Spiczka last summer at Duluth’s Park Point Art Fair. Many of the usual artists were there, painters and photographers and ceramicists… and then there was this captivating collection of radically cool sculptures that reminded me of the museum of natural history that I went to as a kid. As it turns out, this is exactly where his inspiration comes from, inspired collectively by natural bone forms, rural technology, and geometric structures. When you finish reading this interview be sure to visit his website and see the range and scale of his imaginative designs.

EN: Your work is distinctive. What are the materials you work with and how did you learn these skills?

Sam Spiczka: I work mainly with Cor-ten, weathering steel. It's an industrial material most often used on outdoor structures where low maintenance is ideal. Cor-ten steel rusts to a certain point and then stops, creating a protective layer without needing any paints or protective coating.

I grew up working with steel from a very young age. My family's welding shop was (and still is) about 50 feet from the house, so the techniques of metal fabrication became second nature. One of my earliest memories is learning to sweep the shop when I was 5 or 6. I first learned to use a torch around 9 and I was welding at 11 or 12.

EN: Your inspiration comes from nature. Can you elaborate on that?

SS: When you grow up in the country with the closest neighbor about a half mile away, you spend most of your time wandering around outside by yourself. At least I did. I collected all manner of bones, interesting seed pods and neat pieces of wood. I always found them fascinating, much more vibrant and captivating than most anything created by humans. Their forms took root in my own imagination, and have inspired me since.

EN: You could have "painted" these unusual forms, but instead chose to sculpt them. Were there certain sculptors who have ignited your imagination to turn your ideas into 3-D expressions?

SS: I began drawing as a small child, but quickly turned to making things as I got older and learned to use tools. I like the solidity and complexity of physical objects. They assert themselves in the world. There are of course other past sculptors whose work I admire, but I've never felt that my work was directly inspired by any of them. More often I'm inspired by the biography of past sculptors, by their actions and lives. Knowing that they even existed was in itself a revelation at times. Rodin was probably the first revelation to me, and I still love his work. Of course Michelangelo as well. And Henry Moore, whose work is probably formally most similar to my own.

EN: How do you decide what size you will make these pieces?

SS: First you have to decide what the context for the finished work is. Scale is almost entirely a matter of context and distance. Will it be going indoors, outdoors, in a large park, in an intimate garden? But after many years, I find myself coming back to the scale of an upright human adult and how they interact with a work. The detailed texture of my sculpture lends itself to close examination so, I want the scale to be approachable as well. For outdoor work, I tend to like something 8-10' tall. That's big enough to hold it's own in the landscape but still approachable.

EN: Your current show got some press in Art in America magazine. Where did the title of the show "Midwest Gothic" come from?

SS: Grant Wood, of course, painted the iconic American Gothic. I had in mind not so much the exact imagery of that work, but his larger goal in life to establish a mid-western aesthetic. He thought great art could emerge from the landscape he actually lived in, not necessarily coming out of a European or East-coast American tradition. I agree with that, and see that as a goal of mine as well. My work is rooted in the landscape in which I live, which I find to have more permanence and substance than an art of fashion or trends, which generally dominates what we think of as the "Art World."

EN: Where do you currently live and how have the places you've lived influenced your work?

SS: I live in rural Sauk Rapids, MN - a bit Northeast of St. Cloud and a little over 6 miles from where I grew up. My studio is at the house, so I leave the property as seldom as possible. We bought some land out here a couple years back and when I'm not making sculpture, I'm working on planting a food forest/sculpture park hybrid I'm calling PermaSculpture. My sculptures have always felt as if they could have grown up out of this landscape... now I am actually growing this out of the land as well.

EN: Will you back at Park Point Art Fair next summer? Where else can we see more of your work?

SS: I will probably be back next year, but the best place to see my work is at

EdNote: Be sure to follow the link to his website. His output and imagination are both impressive. And if you get the chance, don't forget to see Diggity Dog Days this weekend at Duluth's Play Ground. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Support Your Local Library

Chef Zander prepared a great spread.
From my earliest days libraries have been part of my life. I can still picture in vivid detail the library at my elementary school in suburban Cleveland. It was small by library standards, but I loved the books there. I took one book out so many times that I believe the librarian thought something was wrong with me. I still derive pleasure from re-reading favorite books.
I don't recall whether I was in fourth or fifth grade when my mother brought me with her to the Maple Heights Public Library. I was amazed by the quantity of books, as well as the narrow aisles between the ceiling high shelves. What a world!

We moved to New Jersey in 1964, and soon learned where the Somerville Public Library was. I also remember the exact location of the dictionary in my Hillside elementary school library where I looked up the meaning of an embarrassing word that was used to make fun of me, the "new kid."

Bridgewater-Raritan High School had a campus-style layout with nine separate buildings sprawled in a large arc. The library was in a building of its own. I was then of an age where I could appreciate and hone in on a specific author's catalog of works. I remember reading Pierre Boulle's Bridge on the River Kwai, finding it so gripping that I read all of his books that were parked there, which included Planet of the Apes before it became a film.

My dad was an avid reader, seldom without a book in his hand after dinner or when visiting relatives. My grandmother, too, was a reader and collector of books. Her science fiction collection was extensive and she let me read some of those books, many of which later became films after I'd read them, including Andromeda Strain and Fantastic Voyage. In their retirement home there were book shelves in every room, and one room downstairs that contained floor-to-ceiling book shelves on all four wall, all filled to overflowing.

My Scott Quad dorm at Ohio University was one of the closest on campus to the university library, a seven-story home for seemingly infinite quantities of books and magazines.  researched everything there from the Hatfield-McCoy feud to the varieties of modern artists.

All this to say that I appreciate libraries and what they are about. I've often heard myself say, "Libraries are the one thing I don't mind paying taxes for," and I meant it.

These memories are intended as an introduction to a few comments about a very special event we attended Tuesday evening called Libations at the Library. Now personally, I love our local library here in Duluth, and am also a member on the Superior side of the bridge. Not only do they house books, patrons check take out art for their homes or offices, magazines, DVDs and audio books as well as surf the internet and just plain hang out in a warm space all day. It's all free and free for all.

The invitation for the event read, "Join us for a glittering party of wine and hors d'oeuvres in support of literacy and lifelong learning! An after hours evening of fun at the library in good company--and with books!"

Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff with Dan D'Allaird.
The good company included all members of the Duluth City Council, members of the Library Foundation Board and friends of the library. It was the first time alcohol has been served in this space, with wine and even mixed drinks. (I had the Mayor's Manhattan, which I sipped while looking at books in the 300 section upstairs.

We usually are asked to be quiet in libraries. We learn the meaning of the expression "shhhhh" there. By way of contrast, Tuesday evening was anything but quiet. Very early on the string quartet had to be moved to a location right in the midst of the party because with all the chatter we were unaware that there was live music present. 

The food service was 4-star, prepared and presented by Chef Ryan J. Zander of JJ Astor, the restaurant with a view atop the Radisson across the street. This contribution and the wine were all served from the magazine section, another of my favorite spaces here.

Eventually city councilors Dan Hartman and Linda Krug welcomed us, on behalf of the mayor who regretted his absence, and introduced Dan D'Allaird who spoke briefly about the achievements of the library these past few years, as well as the purpose of this event. Many of us were aware that library hours had been shortened for a while due to budgetary considerations, but now had been restored in all three library branches thus making the library more available and accessible. This past year the library added over 7000 new patrons as a result.

Libations at the Library was a brainchild of the Duluth Library Foundation, which was founded to help support the library and underwrite programs and support the libraries efforts to serve the community. Their current goal is to raise a million dollars to help further this mission.

One thing I learned Tuesday that I did not know before was this. When you give money to the foundation, they keep records and your cumulative giving accrues toward whatever your objectives are. That is, people who give $500 dollars become Emily Dickinson givers. This could be all at once or ten years of fifty dollar donations. The $1000-$2500 range is the Mark Twain level, etc. Evidently they want to make your giving fun, and associated with great literature.

The point of this little discourse is to encourage you, wherever you are, to support your local libraries. Libraries serve a great function in society, and taxes help lay the foundations, but opportunities exist to do much more, and many things require money. It's a great resource. Let's support it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Impromptu Happenings

Photo by John Heino
One of the criticisms leveled against social media was that it would leave us all isolated from one another as we interacted via Facebook and mobile devices rather than face-to-face. Two recent experiences, however, showed me the power of social media to create impromptu happenings and grassroots cultural experiences in ways that did not happen before.

Back in the 60's and early 70's the scene was always at a place. I remember a coffee house in Morristown, New Jersey, probably echoed and re-echoed throughout the country, where people gathered to listen to folk music, hear poetry, get together and share the spirit of the times. You met people there, or went there with friends.

Today, with social media, I get the impression that place is less important. Here are two examples.

Coffee and Cigarettes

The invitation read like this:

Bring your favorite coffee cup and blanket, wear your pj's, and smoke your smokes if you so choose.

We will be brewing up some Duluth Coffee Company beans, enjoying the solo acoustic tunes of many different artists. Join us for this living room experience. Nappers are welcome.

If you would like to be added to the lineup, just comment on the event. There will be a PA (sam hagen thank you) for vocals and plug in guitars if you wish. Each act plays a few songs (originals preferred).

Lee Petersen, Mary Bue, Gabriel Moll, Christopher Bruhn, Daniel Rosen, Ryan Lane, Sonja Bordal, Hattie Peterson, Abraham Curran, Ariane Norrgard and Gaelynn white, Matt Palmquist and Jared, Jay Benson, mark blom, Nate Holte, Emily and Terry, Max Ripley, Aaron Gall (sugar ray), Savannah Villa, Dan Dresser, Amy Lynn (Poetry), Nick Pascuzzi (Poetry)

invite your friends if you wish. bring food if you wish.


Two different friends invited me and though I had a fairly packed schedule already this past Sunday, I made up my mind to check in and check it out. Brought my sketchbook and even brought a poem to read if the opportunity should arise. (Which it did.)

I was hesitant at first because of the name of the gig. When I was in high school I went to a party once in which I counted 28 people in the living room, all puffing on cigarettes. My friend Tom and I were the only two of those 28 who weren't smoking. The air was dense and we left soon after we arrived. But Coffee and Cigarettes was just a mood-title, I think. I saw no one smoking. The only thing being inhaled was the music. Not sure if I saw any blankets either. It was a warm space, made warmer still by the music-energy in the room and the feeling that everyone was welcome. And I didn't see any candles, though I saw lots of coffee. In other words, it was a good vibe.

The gathering was a mix of people from a range a spaces in their life journeys, mostly younger but many quite seasoned. Couches and chairs lined the perimeter of the room and all were filled. There were books here are there, and guitars. I saw respect for one another, and pleasure taken in the creative expressions of the various musical artists. The singer/songwriters had been encouraged to perform original music and not covers, and it was apparent that is a lot of latent talent in this town.

A few of the people I heard were Emily Hart, Terry McCarthy, the consummate showman Eric Gall and Brooke Hamilton, who began by doing an interesting version of Dylan's To Make You Feel My Love, a personal favorite.

I wished I'd been able to stay for the poets, but Amy Lynn, who teaches writing at two of the colleges here in the Twin Ports, did let me read the three pieces she'd assembled that morning for the occasion and I was reminded once more of how deep and strong the talent pool is in this town. Impressed is an understatement.

Live Painting @ Bev's Jook Joint

A month ago this event did not exist. But a lot of Superior businesses are staring at hard times ahead with the planned tearing up of Tower Avenue next year. Bev's Jook Joint, next to Goin' Postal, has already seen a thinning patronage, so Andrew Perfetti and friends decided to put an event together "to put a smile on her face." Three bands, four artists, Saturday Night Live, November 17.

By means of Facebook and social media, a really great party ensued. Dusty Keliin and I setup easels, Becky Brandt brought her charcoal and paper, and a fourth artist stepped in as I was cleaning up near midnight.

The music was great, as there seems a remarkable abundance of talent in this community. Crowds gathered and good times were shared all around.

What impressed me most is how fast the word can get out using these new communication tools. Instead of isolating us, it is powerfully effective for bringing us together.

Music and art, Live at Bev's. Photo by Tal Lindblad.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dream of the Minotaur

Yesterday’s blog entry about mazes brought to mind a dream I once had related to the story of Theseus and the Labyrinth. What follows is what I recorded from that dream on July 24, 1999.

Dream of the Minotaur

A very rich man leads me behind his estate to where he has a long, narrow bull pen. Its dimensions I would estimate to be 10 to 15 feet wide and 200 yards long. The pen appears to be a maze of fencing with at least three narrow corridors going the length of the pen. At various places there are openings that would permit the bull to go from the interior section to the perimeter sections, and in certain places allow the bull to exit the fencing altogether.

My host leaves and it is my understanding that the object of this little game is survival. As I see the bull approaching from the far end, I begin examining the fencing to see where or whether I can climb over or whether the bull will be kept from me if he charges. It is mostly made of rickety slats and wire. I soon realize that since the bull can leave the maze of fencing, I must be able to enter it in order to escape, and suspect that the bull will be faster than I, so that survival will become a matter of wits for me, man against beast, as well as a matter of endurance, since I have no weapon. As long as I am pursued, I must make plans for escaping the bull's reach.

The central corridor is lower than the outer alleys. As I pass the bull, he is down below and I am safely able to reach and explore the complex fencing at the other end of the pen/cage/maze, which seems more elaborate, with higher fences. I see that I am able to climb up on the fencing here and perhaps find safety somehow.

Suddenly, the bull becomes a man. Another young man arrives, and after a brief hug (they appear to be old friends) they say a few words and this other man departs.

The bull / man turns to me now, a tall red-headed fellow with short dreadlock-like curls. We strike up a conversation. I learn that the rich man at the dream's beginning was the bull's father. He, the bull / man, is extremely interested in my life, my background, and especially my involvement in the arts. He wants to arrange a trip with me to New York City where we can go take in the New York arts scene.

I wake.

EdNotes: Visit Wikipedia for more information about the Minotaur of Greek mythology. For a compelling follow up read, find a copy of Andre Gide's Two Legends: Oedipus and Theseus.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Pair of Mazes for You

The notion of labyrinths traces back to ancient mythology, but recurs throughout history. In essence, a labyrinth is a maze, a puzzle, a complicated route that leads to, or conceals, something.

Many writers have made reference to labyrinths in their work. Jorge Luis Borges was fascinated by the idea of labyrinths, which appear repeatedly in his short stories. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose was inspired by Borges in this fascination.

From ancient and medieval times to the present, labyrinths have had their appeal, as real structures to be built or as an idea. The mind itself is said to be a labyrinth. Numerous characters in literature, from Cervantes' Don Quixote onward, have become lost in the labyrinthine worlds of their imaginations.

One of Andre Gide's most fascinating works is his story Theseus, about the Athenian hero who navigated the labyrinth in Crete to slay the half-man, half-bull Minotaur aided by Ariadne's thread. It is an entertaining read, with unexpected twists, and comes with my highest recommendation.

Of course my first encounter with the Internet was somewhat akin to the notion of a labyrinth. If one considers each page a room, from which one must exit to enter another room, you can imagine the whole world wide web as a labyrinthine universe. You can lose yourself in it forever.

Based on this concept I created a small html-labyrinth when I built my personal website seventeen years ago. The Entrance is at the bottom of the page.

A question for you: If the Internet is a Labyrinth, then where is the Minotaur?

Finally, here below is a Maze that I drew this weekend as we sat around drawing together as a family. I must have spent hundreds of hours drawing mazes like this in my youth. It’s not as much fun though if you can’t get others to play the game… so take a minute to download this image and print it. Begin at the word START and see if you can reach the Red Dot at the END. Enjoy!

Download JPEG of maze, then Print.

EdNote: Except for the last paragraph and some minor editing along the way, this blog entry is a re-post of my blog entry of January 8, 2008. The maze is new.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Intergalactica: Part VII

As she entered the forbidden forest she caught sight of Aurora and was struck dumb by Aurora’s bright spirit and beauty. Weary of the hopeless outlook of her people, Njall stared at Aurora and wondered how anything but goodness could be in store for her people.

Though it was against her nature, Njall stepped out of the shadows into the light of Aurora’s presence and crept toward this wonderful and strange being that stood before her.

Words were useless, but soon they found creative ways to tell their stories. Aurora explained how she had been sent to find a new home for the people of Earth. Njall, using gestures, symbols and the universal language of mathematics, helped Aurora comprehend the plight of Galdur.

Intergalactica is a collaborative project conceived and produced by Patty Peterson Mahnke, Kate Dupre and Ed Newman in the spring of 2012. The role of Njall was played by Kailyn Avery.

Friday, November 23, 2012

PRØOF Magazine Call for Submissions

Kathleen Roberts is the newest addition to the PRØVE Gallery and Artist Collective, which is now in its second year. Though having grown up in Rhode Island (her mother is currently Lt. Governor there) she went to school at Carleton College in Northfield where she studied Classics. She had worked here in Duluth with the Conservation Corps for a year and fell in love with the place. The opportunity to become a member of the Collective occurred through a serendipitous encounter with Stephen Read, a co-founder who was now leaving the region for grad school.

Roberts brought a new energy to the team and new skill sets. Her literary background and support from the team here has reulted in the new publication PRØOF Magazine. What follows below is a call for submissions from Kathleen Roberts, the editor and publisher.

PRØOF Magazine has announced an Open Call for Submissions to its second issue, ‘(re)collection’

PRØOF, Duluth, Minnesota’s newest quarterly publication of contemporary art and literature, is accepting submissions for its second issue, ‘(re)collection,’ coming out on January 15, 2013. ‘(re)collection’ will focus on the forms and functions of memory in art. Any format or style of written or visual work addressing this theme is acceptable, and contributors are encouraged to think outside of the box.

Issue overview: None of us comes to our art innocent. Our perceptions and creations are inevitably shaped by our pasts. PRØOF is seeking any type of written or visual art that explores the role of our memories, both individual and collective, in the creation of art.

PRØOF Quarterly: PRØOF is a quarterly publication through Prøve Gallery of Duluth. Our mission is to showcase the talent of local, regional, and national artists and writers and foster the discussion of important ideas about arts and culture. PRØOF is proud to be based in Duluth, and it will focus on one local artist in each issue, bringing them into larger discussions of regional and national art.

Work guidelines:
o Any form and style of work is acceptable.
o Written submissions should be limited to three thousand words or fewer.
o Magazine staff reserves the right to edit for style, content, and grammar.

Cover letters are encouraged, although they are not required. Cover letters should tell us a little bit about you as a writer and include a brief statement about the work you have submitted. They should not include any pitch for or interpretation of your work.

Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, provided that the author notifies PRØOF immediately if their work is selected for publication elsewhere. All works should be previously unpublished.

Submission guidelines:  E-mail submissions to or mail with return postage to Prøve Gallery 21 North Lake Ave. Duluth, MN 55802

o E-mailed documents should be in .doc or .docx format.
o Up to three separate pieces may be submitted.
o If not providing a cover letter, writers should include a separate sheet with their name and contact information.

o Submissions due by December 20.
o Selected writers will be notified by the end of the day on January 2.
o PRØOF (re)collection will be published electronically on January 15, 2013

EdNote: To learn more, check out their first issue, endless timeless limitless nothingness
To Follow on Twitter: @PROOFmag

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Talk

I try to minimize the number of subscriptions I receive from various daily email newsletters, but I do sign up for things now and then. Even if I don't read them every day there are sometimes interesting subject lines and if not in a hurry I open and read it. Most also link to a website or blog for increased engagement. And if you find yourself never opening them, eventually you can choose to unsubscribe and reduce the inbox clutter that can oft be so time consuming to deal with.

One email that I still get every day is called wiseGEEK. It's essentially a daily bit of "Oh, that's interesting" or "Gee, I didn't know that" types of information. Today it was about turkeys. The subject line in the email stated, Only male turkeys gobble.

Although turkeys of all types share many characteristics, gobbling is not something every turkey does. Only male turkeys make the sound that is referred to as a gobble. Along with being known as tom turkeys, male turkeys are often referred to as gobblers. Female turkeys, generally known as hens, make a sound that is somewhat like a clicking noise.

If you clicked on a link for more info, you would go to their website and learn still more about turkeys, the first item below being one that I had written about in the past when writing about turkeys.

~ During the early years of the United States, Benjamin Franklin supported the wild turkey as the national bird. Instead of the wild turkey, however, the bald eagle was selected.

~ Wild turkeys tend to follow a similar pattern when it comes to eating times. Feeding in the mid-morning, followed by a second feeding in the mid-afternoon is most common. Many turkeys feed by using their beaks to cut through or rip vegetation. Their feet are used to scratch through snow or leaves to find other food sources.

~ The Turkey Trot was a popular dance move in the early 1960s, but the term also is used to describe the mating efforts of male turkeys. In the spring, male turkeys often spread their tail feathers while puffing out their chests and strutting around in the presence of hens. It is during this season that the male turkey is particularly prolific with gobbling, using the sounds to attract as many females as possible.*

What I find especially interesting about all this turkey talk is that our images of Thanksgiving as a holiday are so frequently filled with pilgrims and pumpkin pie and a horn 'o plenty that we forget that its origin was none other than Abe Lincoln, who in the midst of a great civil war set aside the last Thursday of November as a national day for giving thanks to God for His bounty.

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

You can read the proclamation in its entirety here.

Speaking of Lincoln, the new Spielberg film is exceptional and worth seeing. I'll be writing a review soon.

As for the original topic, if you'd like to hear a couple turkey gobbles up close, my YouTube clip might fit the bill to make your Thanksgiving day that more complete. Enjoy.

* Source:  wiseGEEK

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Call for Art at the Prøve Gallery in Duluth

The upcoming art show at the Prøve Gallery in Duluth is called "UNDER $100."  Curator for this show is Richard Hansen, eldest of the five-member collective.What follows is a message for both artists and fans of the arts.

As Duluth's newest space for emerging and contemporary art, Prøve has assembled some impressive exhibitions during its first year in operation. The gallery is a non-profit seeking to give emerging artists the opportunity to gain experience and exposure while furthering Duluth's community involvement and interest in the arts.

Hansen put out the call for art on the gallery's Facebook page. Here's what they are seeking for this show:

All work should be priced under $100. There are no theme or media restrictions. Works can be hung on the wall, free standing, laying on the floor, suspended, etc. Send submissions to or to 21 N Lake Avenue, Duluth, MN 55802 with a self-addressed return envelope.

A complete entry will include contact information, a short bio, a statement for the piece(s), and five jpg or pdf images of the artist's work. Submissions must be of finished work.

Submissions are due by November 30th, and selected artists will be notified by December 3rd, 2012.

If selected, work needs to be delivered by Wednesday, December 12th, 2012. Gallery Opening is Friday December 14th, 2012 and will run for 2 weeks. 

The invitation requests that all work be matted, framed, and/or ready to install upon delivery, with installation instructions included.

Hansen and team include the gallery dimensions in their invitation and suggest that works not exceed 10' x 10', which I must observe is quite a large piece for under $100. That would come to a dollar per square foot of art, or 31 boxes of Life cereal when it's on sale.

Pieces by Heino will be there.
As regards the show itself, this will be a great opportunity for novice collectors to find something to begin their own personal collections. A few years back I found a special piece at the Park Point Art Fair, and it hangs here in my home office to this day. After that I brought home a piece by Jessica Turtle, and have slowly continued to add to these.

If collecting is not a direction for you, original art makes a great gift for friends or loved ones. The best part is that when you own a piece of art, from practical pottery to wall paintings or sculpture, you spend the money only once but get to enjoy it for ever.

Hope to see you there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Like a Five-Point Star

A successful art scene has several components. First, there are the artists. There would be nothing to see if there were no artists.

Second, there are the venues. Artists generally need places to show their work. Theoretically, we could have studio tours where people are invited to come over to see what you are doing, and that is happening to some degree in many places. But generally, art galleries and other public spaces fill the bill here.

Third, there is the public. Artists show their work so that it can be seen, can be engaged.

Fourth, there are the patrons or sponsors who support artists and galleries. These can be individuals, but more often are foundations, businesses and/or institutions, including federal, state and local provisions for the arts from government bodies.

Fifth, there is the media, which serves to inform the public of the arts happenings, inviting, dissecting, analyzing and encouraging participation in the arts, identifying the players, discussing their motivations and aims, educating the public and challenging the artists.

In other words, it's like a five point star which, when working, benefits everyone involved.

Here in the Twin Ports, we've seen progress on a number of these fronts. The DNT's Wave section on Thursday's has always been useful, but limited due in part to staffing. This past year The Reader has added a little coverage of the arts and artists in our region, and there are several other small periodicals that serve that function. But it's social media that has made the big contribution to fostering communication between disparate groups in the local arts scene. has helped, and all those invitations to Events on Facebook have helped. Yes, it can get annoying being invited so many places but think about it. At least we're a little more aware of what is going on. Hoo-rah for that. Not too long ago there was really quite a void.

And it's especially encouraging to have two mayors who are advocates for the arts here. Thank you, sirs.

Meantime, life goes on. Have a very special day. We have much to be grateful for.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marketing the City

This past week Duluth Mayor Don Ness released a 78-page report about the Duluth Creative Corridor that assesses the city and outlines steps the city can take as it envisions its future. Friday I shared here some of the findings with regard to creating a sense of place. This morning I wanted to share some of the suggestions that the panel of experts proposed with regard to the marketing of our city. They offered some really good insights.

Actually, what was intriguing about their ideas was they stemmed from a serious assessment by fresh eyes. For what it's worth, this region really might be ready for prime time.

Duluth has done a remarkable job re-positioning itself among residents of the upper Midwest as a family vacation spot and destination for outdoor enthusiasts. With its spectacular shoreline, unusual hilly topography, tourist-centered Canal Park area, and burgeoning downtown nightlife and arts scene, Duluth could become a national destination for vacationers and new residents – if the city is able to use both creative marketing and authentic place-making. As Mayor Don Ness told the editorial board of the Duluth News Tribune, Duluth should aim to join cities like Boulder, Colorado, and Asheville, North Carolina, as a nationally known mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and young creatives.

A critical piece when it comes to marketing any product is branding. In the case of a city, it involves clearly identifying who or what we really are. 

Most of us who have been immersed in Duluth culture for any amount of time have pre-conceived notions about who we are that prevent us from really seeing. We know the names of our neighborhood, our creeks and parks, etc. But what is Duluth today? The report stated that answering this question will be a vital part of how we market ourselves to the wider world.

What is the Duluth brand? The team stressed that a brand is not the same as a slogan. Nor is identifying who we are going to be something that one person or constituency does alone, expecting everyone else to buy in.

The city boasts 3.5 million tourist visitors a year, so clearly its marketing team has done its job well. But the city’s messaging could be better grounded through a more unified strategy. That does not mean one big slogan for all marketing messages. It means that the many agencies and people who help shape the city’s marketing must work together with a common understanding of their purpose. Studying the motivations and profiles of the many different types of people and groups attracted to Duluth and determining the appropriate branding for places within the city, the downtown, and the Duluth Creative Corridor will take time and intellectual rigor.

The report offers too many ideas for such a brief space here, so I recommend reading it for yourselves, but here's one that jumped out at me.

Clarify what downtown is: Downtown, Old Downtown, and Canal Park appear to have different visions of whether they are one place or three. The downtown place-brand beyond Canal Park is at best unclear, and there is limited consensus about what the community wants it to be. Survey results clearly indicate that the marketplace sees Canal Park as a distinct place and stakeholders clearly market it as such. Efforts to similarly position the rest of downtown or the Duluth Creative Corridor are limited, although the Fitger’s Brewery Complex/ Downtown Waterfront area and increasingly the entertainment district near the Sheraton Duluth Hotel have some presence. Coming up with a shared marketing vision and simple, unified marketing message is all the more difficult because of the long linear form and diversity of the downtown. The overarching Duluth Creative Corridor provides a mechanism for achieving the shared definition of place needed for effective marketing. In that approach, the corridor umbrella is punctuated with distinctive districts and corridors that reflect their unique assets and appeal. Denver, for example, has an expansive downtown, but visitors and residents alike all know about “LoDo” (Lower Downtown) and the dining, entertainment, and nighttime activity associated with that section of the downtown.

In other words, the various pieces have been developing beautifully, but they are not as yet working in concert. The charrette suggested we can be strengthened by linking these into a complete district. It's certainly something to think about.

Ultimately, here were the Top Five Recommendations for marketing Duluth and the Creative Corridor.

Brand ≠ Slogan. 
Convene all groups with a role in marketing Duluth (the GDC, Downtown Council, Visit Duluth, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Duluth Economic Development Authority, Visit Duluth, etc.) to (A) determine Duluth’s “brand” or “essence” and (B) devise the best strategies to capitalize on or, if necessary, change that brand.

Downtown Is Downtown, Old or New. 
 Begin treating downtown, Canal Park, and the lower Hillside areas as all part of one “downtown.”

By the Numbers. 
Begin to quantify successes (or lack of) in attracting residents to downtown and in dollars reinvested in the charrette area. That gives heft to marketing and points to areas in need of attention.

Authenticity Matters.  
After creating the Duluth Creative Corridor, use it to illustrate and market Duluth’s future as a home for young creatives, families, and empty-nesters in search of city life.

Capitalize on the Big Mo.  
Act quickly, before the energy generated by the charrette team’s return visit dissipates.   

The city has momentum. You can hear it in the amplified buzz in the arts sector especially. Let's keep it going.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Intergalactica: Part VI

Within the shadows of the forest Aurora stood motionless, fully aware. Njall, contrary to her tribal tendency to flee, went forward to explore. This was the forbidden Forest of Griffton. Njall had heard that there was an altar there to an unknown God and she suddenly felt compelled to find it, for what reason she knew not.

As she entered the forbidden forest she caught sight of Aurora and was struck dumb by Aurora’s bright spirit and beauty. Weary of the hopeless outlook of her people, Njall stared at Aurora and wondered how anything but goodness could be in store for her people.

Though it was against her nature, Njall stepped out of the shadows into the light of Aurora’s presence and crept toward this wonderful and strange being that stood before her.

Intergalactica is a collaborative project conceived and produced by Patty Peterson Mahnke, Kate Dupre and Ed Newman in the spring of 2012. The role of Njall was played by Kailyn Avery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Building a Sense of Place in Downtown Duluth

Scene at the PROVE Gallery this past Friday.
One day, back in the early 90's when we lived at the top of the Central Hillside in Downtown Duluth, I came home from work to find an artist from Bulgaria painting a landscape on the sidewalk in front of my house. I walked over and watched him for a few minutes, then asked where he was from and why he was here. He said that Duluth was one of the three most beautiful cities in the world the way the late afternoon sun rushed down at an angle over a steep hillside to a vast body of water below. He compared it to San Francisco and a city in Switzerland, perhaps Zurich if I recall properly.

The incident became a vivid reminder of why this Northland community is something of a magical place. And it’s one of the reasons why the Twin Ports region has become such an attractive nesting space for artists seeking a sense of place.

I’ve always enjoyed the title of Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier’s insightful volume A Place For You. A place, a destination, a home… a source of nourishment and development. We all long for it. According to the report released by national city planning experts earlier this week, the fermenting Duluth arts community has been this and is becoming moreso.

Tonja Sell piece at the PROVE.
The 78-page report has much of value, and though available to all (as noted in my column yesterday) I will take a few blog entries to highlight some of its features, observations and recommendations. There were seemingly countless people and hours devoted to assembling this information, and my guess is that the best way to build on what has been done is to keep talking about it, which I am sure was the point of Mayor Don Ness's press conference Tuesday.

Early on the report explains the background and outlines the aims of the of those who took this initiative.

In October 2011, Duluth city leaders, downtown businesses, and community organizations joined together to convene a mid-course review of progress in achieving the guiding principles and recommendations from its 2005 charrette. The review was sponsored by the City of Duluth, Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corporation (Duluth LISC), the Greater Downtown Council, and the University of Miami School of Architecture.

The 2005 Duluth Charrette Principles
1. Boost Duluth
2. Evoke a sense of place
3. Foster public safety
4. Preserve and enhance heritage resources
5. Invest in the public realm
6. Establish and restore the unique urban ecology of the city’s neighborhoods, districts, corridors, and downtown
7. Calm traffic and improve connectivity
8. Broaden the mix of uses
9. Expand housing opportunities for people from all walks of life to live downtown
10. Improve the regulatory framework

What impressed me was the quantity of people involved in this visioning process, as well as the caliber. Young people may not realize that the population here was once nearly 50,000 more than it is today. This was a steel mill town, major port in the industrial age as well as for the breadbasket of the nation. As the rust belt rusted, Duluth began to reconfigure its image, a process that has culminated in a document full of noteworthy recommendations.

Specific actions to pursue

 Arts and Economic Development – Treat the arts (visual and performance) as a retail and entertainment anchor; create additional places where artists can live and work, and in the process, liven up the street. Cluster arts and synergistic residences, retail and educational facilities in nodes to maximize the economic spinoff, and “Duluth is sometimes called the ‘San Francisco of the Midwest’ because of its dramatic topography, proximity to Lake Superior, and abundance of historic architecture in its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. This, combined with its location in the northern alpine wilderness, gives it a distinctive character among small U.S. cities. The charrette team was inspired by Duluth’s stunning geographic setting juxtaposed with the traditional urban fabric imposed on the landscape.”

 Housing – Duluth has benefitted from strong public, private, and non-profit sector partners led by LISC that have helped stabilize and diversify housing options within the downtown for a wide variety of household types and income levels. The panel advocates maintaining a strong commitment to expanding downtown housing opportunities, including the addition of more market-rate housing and getting the word out about the fun and sophisticated living options in and near the downtown. Duluth’s economic and downtown development groups all need to help tell the story in addition to investing in making the Duluth Creative Corridor work even better as a regional economic engine.

The city and its partners should set quantifiable goals, provide the incentives to achieve them, and document successes.

 Institutional Partnerships – Capitalize on the presence of anchor institutions, including hospitals, and universities, in or near the Duluth Creative Corridor that provide two of the essential amenities (access to good health care and education) that are always top drivers in the “best place to live” studies and reports. Four critical “to dos”: 
1) Create joint campus/neighborhood-friendly plans; 
2) Provide incentives for employees to live near where they work (a household money-saver); 
3) Encourage students to volunteer and live in the corridor; and 
4) Invest in improving the off-campus environment.

 Marketing – Strengthen and tell the Duluth story, but not just in the Midwest. Duluth is ready to compete with great urban places like Boulder and Ashville that are Meccas for young creatives and outdoor enthusiasts. The identification and study of peer communities such as these and others can provide valuable insights into how communities of similar size and resources capitalize on their unique assets and strengths to compete. With its spectacular shoreline, dramatic topography, the Canal Park area, connections to northern vacation destinations, and burgeoning downtown nightlife and arts scene, Duluth has the natural and urban livability assets to become a national destination.

 Planning, Urban Design, and Connectivity – Adapt existing codes and adopt new regulations and review procedures that support and actively facilitate the realization of the Duluth Creative Corridor (treating street design in a context-based manner, for example). Great cities are defined by great streets. Connect the higher education campuses physically, visually, psychologically, and through branding efforts to the downtown and waterfront as one seamless, walkable urban living area. Invest in making Superior Street a cultural hot spot and a great street of urban stature.

 Leadership – Get institutional leaders more actively involved and invested in realizing the corridor vision. Establish a regular, ongoing coordinating group to keep the vision alive, assign actions with clear and trackable outcomes, monitor and document progress (the numbers are important), stimulate excitement and innovative thinking, and tell the Duluth story. The coordinating group must include community leaders from business, government, industry, non-profits, and academia that can take decisive actions that move implementation forward: marshaling resources, forging partnerships, removing obstacles, and empowering staff to effect change. In short, the panel concluded, the Duluth Creative Corridor will reposition Duluth as one of the country’s great urban places. As evidenced by its exceptional progress to date and the continued support for a bold, shared vision, the city has the requisite public and private leadership and fortitude to make that happen.

Years ago there was a jingle on the radio about this town designed to bring people back in. I believe it was Julie Finkel of the Centerville All Stars who sang it: "Downtown Duluth. It's Everything Special." With today's vision and the developmental achievements of recent years, I believe the slogan is apt. There's plenty of work to be done, but much to look forward to as well.  

In the meantime, get out and enjoy the arts. There are plenty of venues. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mayor Ness Press Conference Praises Local Arts Community

Tuesday's Duluth News Tribune had a story on the front page of its Local section by reporter Mike Creger titled Report: Arts push Duluth's appeal. The essence of the piece was to announce a press conference that Mayor Ness would be conducting that morning in a couple hours having to do with a report developed by national urban-planning experts who visited Duluth in 2005 and again in 2011.

Creger's article begins:

Six years of talking and building on progress culminates in a report to be released today that outlines a vision for the vitality of the eastern downtown, hillside and waterfront areas of the city.

Mayor Don Ness will talk about “The Duluth Creative Corridor” at a 10:30 a.m. news conference in the lobby of the Zeitgeist Arts Building on East Superior Street.

National urban-planning experts joined Duluthians beginning in 2005 to talk about ramping up the public appeal of Old Downtown and its surroundings.

His relatively brief article summarizes the findings of these experts in a concluding paragraph:

“The Duluth Creative Corridor will reposition Duluth as one of the country’s great urban places,” it reads. “As evidenced by its exceptional progress to date and the continued support for a bold, shared vision, the city has the requisite public and private leadership and fortitude to make that happen.”

But what I want to know is, what did Mayor Ness say at the press conference? Why was there no follow up story in the paper the next day?

I'm curious if the media shows up for these press conferences. The Perfect Duluth Day community blog had no article, only a copy of the 78-page report to download. The Trib likewise enables you to download the report on its website as well, which the public can likewise obtain by going to Mayor Ness' website. I doubt the Reader had anyone there because Tuesday is their push to go to press by Wednesday. Maybe we will see something in a month in Business North?

The visits from our national city-planning experts were no small deal. There were as many as a thousand people from a whole range of constituencies involved in the meetings and walking tours that comprised their 2005 and 2011 visits.

The report calls what happened a "charrette," which seems to be an interesting word selection. It's French in origin, and means, "a final, intensive effort to finish a project, especially an architectural design project, before a deadline."

I like the sound of the word, but when I look for a synonym in the thesaurus to put it in laymen's terms, there are no synonyms, not even in Rodale's Synonym Finder, a much larger volume. I would like to see what we can do to bridge the gap between the people who use words like charrette and those who couldn't even guess what it means.

Page 5 of the report states, "Duluth's progress since the 2005 charrette has been remarkable." Of this I can find many who will attest the same. But there are still many arts community issues yet to be addressed, and it wasn't that long ago that I recall a Duluth News Tribune article noting that our Central Hillside, where many of our artists live and which is adjacent to the "arts corridor," was one of the five most impoverished neighborhoods in the nation.  

I'll glean what I can from the report and will try to pass it on. We march forward with cautious optimism.