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Patrick's Cabaret to bring down the curtain for good

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Venus DeMars performs in "Culture Wars Cabaret.
Venus DeMars performs in "Culture Wars Cabaret" at Patrick's Cabaret in March of 2015.
Ryan Stopera

In the spring of 1986, dancer and performance artist Patrick Scully was working on a new project and wanted to get feedback on it. He didn't know that he was about to create an arts institution that would last more than three decades.

Scully didn't have enough material for a whole evening's performance, but he thought maybe other artists would want to share their current projects, too.

"And so I looked through my Rolodex and invited any friends who potentially had something," he said. "They might be writers, musicians, dancers — it didn't really matter."

The evening was a hit, and it quickly became clear that Scully's cabaret was filling a hole in the arts scene. As a gay man who created work that celebrated homosexuality, Scully said, it was important to have a space where artists didn't have to worry about offending some curatorial power.

"But I think in some ways one of the more radical things about Patrick's Cabaret is that it was not just queer — it was open to everybody," he said. "That it was a rainbow umbrella that said anybody who wants to stand underneath this umbrella is welcome to be here."

Over the years the cabaret moved from a school to Scully's apartment to an old firehouse in Minneapolis. Scully eventually moved on to focus on other projects, but the cabaret endured. Under the leadership of the current executive artistic director, Scott Artley, the cabaret focused even more on serving artists of color, artists with disabilities and transgender artists.

Artists perform in Patrick’s Cabaret’s “Lightning Rod."
Artists perform in Patrick's Cabaret's "Lightning Rod" in April 2017.
Ari Newman

But increasingly difficult financial problems forced Artley to make the decision to close. This Sunday, Patrick's Cabaret will present what he's calling not a funeral, but a "FUNeral."

"Doing it this way feels like the best way to honor the history of an organization that's made such an important impact on the Twin Cities performing arts world," Artley said.

Patrick's Cabaret didn't just give artists a place to perform, Artley said; it paid them for performing and provided them with training opportunities and other tools to develop their careers.

"We often find that our work is relegated to what I call basements and bars," he said. "We have trouble finding legitimate spaces and legitimate platforms to share our work in a way that's honored, visible and rendered important to the world."

Recently, artists gathered for a rehearsal of "Anything But English," a regular cabaret at Patrick's that features new work in different languages.

Ojibwe playwright and actor Marisa Carr said she feels lucky to get to work with Patrick's before it officially closes, but she's worried about the future.

Carr built up her career working at two venues similar to Patrick's Cabaret: Intermedia Arts and Bedlam Theater. Carr says her experiences there helped get the attention of larger organizations.

Symone Smash-it performs.
Symone Smash-it performs in Patrick's Cabaret's "Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire" at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis in October 2017.
Ari Newman

"Those were the first spaces where we were able to call ourselves artists and learn that it was OK to call ourselves artists, especially as artists of color, people from non-traditional backgrounds," she said.

But both Intermedia and Bedlam have closed in the past two years, and now Patrick's is joining them. Carr worries that the richness and diversity of art on Twin Cities stages will decrease.

"My fear is that what will end up happening is that only a very specific kind of art will be supported, or only artists from a specific background and training pedigree will be supported, because the spaces that were supporting everyone else will have ceased to exist," Carr said.

For decades, the Twin Cities has enjoyed a reputation for its dynamic and thriving arts scene. Patrick Scully said institutions like the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater represent the top of the food chain, whereas spaces like Patrick's Cabaret represent the dirt and worms. If you want the arts ecosystem to be healthy and robust, he said, you need to take care of your topsoil.