The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Minneapolis-based Walker Art Center, an international hub for cutting-edge performing arts
Walker Art Center
Photograph of TB Walker on grand stairway in the foyer of the newly-constructed Walker Art Galleries, 1927.
Walker Art Center
Walker Art Galleries at 1710 Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, 1930 - the "Moorish" facade.
Walker Art Center
Barnes building in 1985; viewed from east. (The Guthrie Theater is building connected at right of Barnes with the banners extending from roof.)
Photo: Glenn Halvorson

Target Corporation is an American retailing company that was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1902. In 1962, the first Target store opened in Roseville, Minnesota, and in 2000 the company changed its name from Dayton Hudson to Target. It is the fifth largest retailer by sales revenue in the United States, and The company is ranked at number 31 on the Fortune 500 as of 2008.
Besides the Walker, were there any other institutions in the U.S. that focused on supporting cutting edge work in performing arts through commissioning and residencies in the 60’s?
    In many ways the U.S. performing arts field’s commitment to ideas such as residencies with artists and commissioning new work was led in part by places like the Walker.

So, the Walker, acting on its vision, was leading the trend and influenced the field nationally?
    Yes. In fact, the directors of the Walker have gone on to do really interesting important things. For example, Suzanne Weil went on to lead the program at the National Endowment for the Arts, as did Nigel Redden who took her job a few years later. Nigel is now running the Lincoln Center Festival and the Spoleto Festival. John Killacky who had the job before me went on to run the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco and is now at the San Francisco Foundation. Robert Sterns went on from here to start the Wexner Center and then continued to do good work with Arts Midwest. What I find very encouraging is that for more than a dozen multi-disciplinary contemporary arts centers that started 10 or 15 years after the Walker was established (e.g. MassMoCA, the ICA in Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago, the Wexner Center, Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts, Diverse Works in Houston), the Walker’s commitment to multi-disciplinary programs across contemporary art forms helped create a template that they could emulate and experiment with.

Besides the Walker, there are other significant arts organizations in the Twin Cities that are actively contributing to the community and the field and influencing the rest of the country. To name a few, the Guthrie Theater, the Children’s Theater Company, the Playwrights Center, the Opera and the Orchestra. Why in the Twin Cities do so many visionary arts and cultural leaders gather and thrive?
    People often wonder and ask that question, and I think that we need to point to a couple of things. One is that we have really visionary philanthropists – individuals who are willing to give a lot of money and to help set a direction of very high standards and of adventurousness on the part of the organization. There are individuals and families in this community that date back for a hundred years plus who have funded the arts heavily to make Minneapolis stand out nationally. For example, Ken and Judy Dayton, who were a part of the family who ran the Dayton-Hudson Corporation which evolved into Target (*8), helped establish the new directions for the Walker led by Martin Friedman and gave hundreds of millions of dollars to help this institution and many others.
    Then there were major foundations such as the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the General Mills, St. Paul Companies. Inordinate numbers of foundations that support culture were based here in the Twin Cities and I think that really allowed organizations to take interesting chances and encouraged them to collaborate together. This in turn attracted artist to live here. Also, there existed a cultural heritage of the Scandinavian immigrants who really felt a commitment to public institutions and to culture as a publicly funded entity. Perhaps, they became stewards for making culture part of people’s lives. Also, things build on each other. Cultural institutions continue to grow, more people want to live here because they know the Walker is here, the Guthrie is here. Things just keep growing. Last week at the election, something incredibly encouraging step at the State-wide level happened: people voted for tax increase to support culture as well as open land and clean water.

This season started off with Merce Cunningham’s large-scale site-specific work “Ocean,” and it include Batsheva Dance Company from Israel, Chelfitsch Theater Company from Japan, Hoipolloi theatre and a sound artist Ray Lee from the U.K., a French percussion ensemble; Eiko & Koma and the Builders Association from New York as well as local artists programs. The season is consists of 28 different artists’ programs between September 2008 and the end of May 2009. Please talk about the current program policy for the performing arts.
    We’ve retained the commitment to be involved in both very established artists and emerging artists. Our criteria for established artists is if they are continuing to push out the form that they work in and push themselves in new directions. If artists like Merce Cunningham, who’s about to turn 90, continues to throw ambitious and interesting challenges to himself and his art form, we feel like they should continued to be supported by us. But I’d say that the bulk of our work is with the mid-career artists, people in their mid-30s to late 50s, who are right at the height of their innovative abilities, who aren’t necessarily well known nationally or internationally yet, but who really have a track record of strong work and are asking interesting questions. I’ve always felt, and I believe the directors before me did too, that any arts institution that is an integrated part of its community needs to have and be supportive of in some significant way the artists who are right in their own community. So, we’ve always tried to find different ways to commission or present a work from artist who is based in Minnesota.
    About 80% of our program presents artists who are nationally or internationally known. The other 20% we continue to feel is very important and having them both really helps make connections between national and local artists. While we don’t pretend that we can support everyone - there are other organizations that do that more consistently and probably better - we feel that we can create threads that play important roles as part of the ecosystem of the Twin Cities’ cultural scene.
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