Arts and Culture

Minnesota arts community mourns writer Pamela Espeland

portrait of a woman in front of a bookshelf
A portrait of local arts writer Pamela Espeland who died Sunday
Courtesy of John Whiting

Pamela Espeland, a writer and editor who was one of the busiest and most passionate journalists covering the Minnesota arts scene, died on Sunday evening after an apparent stroke, according to a statement her family shared Monday afternoon on Facebook.

“Many of you know her as a voice for the Twin Cities arts community,” they wrote in a post made available to Espeland’s Facebook friends. “Some of you probably met her and John at a show at the Dakota, Orchestra Hall, Icehouse or the old Artists Quarter. You’ve likely read her column, interviews and articles on MinnPost and [the] Star Tribune. Maybe you caught her at the yarn shop or Sebastian Joe’s. As a friend once told her, ‘You’re accepted at more places than VISA.'”

Tanner Curl, executive director of MinnPost — where Espeland was a longtime arts columnist — wrote on Twitter that he was “absolutely stunned” at the news, and that the publication was preparing “a remembrance that will be a start to recognize the incredible gifts that Pamela brought to MinnPost and to our community.”

Espeland was a familiar face to thousands of Twin Cities artists and audience members who became accustomed to seeing her at concerts, plays, art exhibits and readings. She was a great enthusiast but brought a critical perspective to her writing and a well-honed reporter’s instinct for important stories like her most recent MinnPost article about the departure of community advocate Joan Vonderbruggen from the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

As the Twin Cities Arts Reader notes, Espeland was a Carleton College graduate who “alternately authored, co-authored or edited more than 200 books, including both fiction and non-fiction titles,” during her employment with Minnesota’s Free Spirit Publishing, which specializes in self-help books for kids. She also wrote for the Star Tribune, NPR and other sources. Marianne Combs, a fellow arts journalist, launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Espeland’s widower John Whiting: a photographer whose work often accompanied Espeland’s stories.

In the music world, Espeland was known as a fan of all types of music, but she was particularly knowledgeable and passionate about jazz. She understood the depth of the Twin Cities jazz scene and constantly worked to illuminate its stories.

“Pamela was one of the first people to make me feel truly welcome in the jazz scene as a talent booker,” remembers Diane Miller, host of The Current’s Local Show. “Her warmth and care for the arts community was undeniable.”

This story originally appeared on The Current.

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