6 things to know in the Twin Cities art world this week

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Jeremy B. Cohen, the producing artistic director of the Playwrights' Center for 14 years, plans to step down in 2024 after overseeing the completion of a $19 million fundraising campaign and the construction of a 19,000-square foot facility in St. Paul.
Lauren B. Photography

American Swedish Institute announces new CEO

The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis announced its new president and CEO.

Molly Wright Steenson will be assuming the position, succeeding Bruce Karstadt who has led the organization for 31 years.

Steenson is an author and educator who was raised in St. Paul and has lived and worked in Sweden. She holds degrees in architecture and environmental design and is currently working at Carnegie Mellon University in the School of Design.

Steenson will start her new role at the museum in July.

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Jeremy B. Cohen to leave Playwrights' Center after 14 years

After serving as the producing artistic director of the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis for 14 years, Jeremy B. Cohen has announced that he will step down in June 2024.

He explained that this will give the organization time to transition into new leadership. Cohen will oversee the completion of a $19 million fundraising campaign and the construction of a 19,000-square foot facility in St. Paul.

“The building is in the heart of south St. Anthony,” Cohen told MPR News, “so kind of in that creative enterprise zone. There's beautiful projects happening there with FilmNorth, and, I mean, that amazing nonprofit area there, that whole neighborhood. Theater Mu is down the street, and artists who have been in their studios forever are there.”

During Cohen's time at the Playwrights’ Center, the organization served a membership that now numbers 2,400 in 23 countries, and provided $450,000 in direct support to playwrights and other theater artists.

Playwrights’ Center awards two fellowship programs

In other Playwrights’ Center news, the organization announced recipients of two fellowship programs.

These are the Jerome and the Many Voices fellowships. Both fellowships are for two-year terms and provide the fellows with artistic support. The programs also provide $25,000 per year in fellowship compensation, along with health insurance.

The Jerome Fellowship supports early-career playwrights who, according to the Center, “demonstrate extraordinary potential, artistic vision, and a commitment to a professional development program in Minnesota.” Past recipients include Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson.

The Many Voices Fellowships supports early-career Black playwrights, playwrights of color and Indigenous playwrights.

During their fellowship, the recipients will reside in Minnesota and participate in the Playwrights’ Center's programming.

A list of winners can be found on the Center’s website.

Mark Valdez, artistic director in the history of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.
Courtesy Mixed Blood Theatre

Minneapolis' Mixed Blood Theater goes hyperlocal

“12 x 12” is the name of a performance project, produced by Minneapolis-based Mixed Blood Theater.

The project will feature 12 performances created in collaboration with 12 artists, and will be rooted in 12 different communities throughout the Twin Cities metro area. These include geographical locations, as well as specific communities of people.

“Because we're working with a range of artists from synchronized swimmers, to poets, to artists, chefs, etc. Like, it was also the opportunity to, to get to kind of get to expand definitions of what theater is or can be,” Mark Valdez, the artistic director of Mixed Blood Theater, told MPR News.

The first performance will take place in Minneapolis at Powderhorn Park, focused on disabled communities. Visit Mixed Blood's website for more information.

Kathryn Haddad
New Arab American Theater Works' Kathryn Haddad teaching John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minnesota in 2015.
Caroline Yang for MPR

Minneapolis hosts Arab and Muslim American play showcase

A showcase of Arab and Muslim American plays begins Saturday in Minneapolis.

New Arab American Theater Works is hosting a showcase that features new works by playwrights who participated in their first ever incubator program for early to mid-career playwrights. Kathryn Haddad is the executive and artistic director of the theater.

“There is a lack of stories by the SWANA community — Southwest Asia, North African and Muslim community — on stage,” Haddad told MPR News. “And so that's the impetus, actually, of our theater company. And this program was one designed to encourage, facilitate and develop new work by our writers.”

Eight plays will be performed over the course of the showcase, which runs Saturday and Sunday. Each play will also have a moderated discussion. For more information, visit the New Arab American Theater Works website.

Absolute Bleeding Edge: An Instagram account worth following — Sentient Muppet Factory

AI is sending everyone into a tailspin, including the art world. Some artists are even suing AI art generators in a class-action lawsuit for a breach of copyright law.

Other artists are using it to create uncanny bizarro worlds. Take artist Beth Frey’s Instagram account, Sentient Muppet Factory. Using the DALL-E digital image generator, Frey has populated a grotesque parade of waxy, melting, and bulbous characters. Body parts are often swapped, fused, or piled up.

Frey also has a knack for creating odd couples: human-Muppet pairings that are jolly, melancholy and frisky. Think Garbage Pail Kids meets Missed Connections. Imagine that David Cronenberg and Jim Henson got together to make an afterschool special, but for adult eyes only.

It’s cheeky, weird and often disgusting. But the grotesque has a place: “The grotesque truly is the image at play, and its humor and irreverence offer a welcome antidote to all forms of conventional thinking,” writes art historian Frances S. Connelly in “The Grotesque in Western Art and Culture.” It is an “open mouth that invites our descent into other worlds.”

If this is too much to stomach and you need some eye bleach, a parallel but much sweeter and more innocent world exists at The Latchkey Kidds. Here, Muppet-like monsters act as helpful, doting sidekicks to kiddos exploring the universe.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.