For those of us here in Minnesota, you might have noticed that it is “Give to the Max Day”… that wonderful day where the entire state goes online and donates to their favorite charities.
And brings down the Internet as they do.
Minnesotans are rightly proud of this tradition, as our Give to the Max Day tends to be one of the largest such days in the nation. Last year, for example, this statewide philanthropy event spurred more than 60,000 people to give $18.1 million to several thousand organizations. That’s huge!
I’ve been involved with a whole host of nonprofits over the years, both professionally and personally. There are so many choices about where to give, but I wanted to share a top recommendations for local arts/cultural organizations and explain why I think they stand out.
Stop by GiveMN’s website to donate… or knowing that the site tends to overload and go down, I’ve also linked the organizations’ respective websites directly. Thank you for your support!
* * *
The Minnesota Chorale. This one is probably no surprise—I’m the President of the Board. But I’m not recommending it out of some obligation, but rather a sense of pride and wonder at the amazing work they do in the community. It is for these reasons I am the President of the Board. The Chorale is dedicated to sharing vocal music, performed at the highest level, to the widest public. It is perhaps most famous for its large-scale performances with the area’s two top orchestras, the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. But it does so much more. It is committed to working with community partners, both artistic or non-artistic, to explore what music means for the community. One of my favorite experiences was a project done a few years back with the Courage Center… an organization dedicated to helping differently-abled people live their lives to their fullest potential. We were working specifically with non-traditional dancers, who performed in wheelchairs, used walkers, or were completely deaf. It was amazing seeing music transform these people, and seeing the audience be transformed by their performances, too. Toward the end, one dancer with cerebral palsy said to me he had been called many things in his life, but had never been called beautiful, nor an artist. Hats off also to our elder chorus and children’s choir, which allow singers to sing across their entire lifetime.
The Minnesota Orchestra. My ties to this group go way back—I started working for them in 1992 and worked for them in some capacity right up through the 16-month lockout. The lockout was hard, but the organization is transformed. It is performing music at the highest level, but more than that it is completely reshaped its relationship to the community. Last year, it leaped from strength to strength, and I am inspired and excited about where its going. You can help keep that momentum going, and make sure it continues to perform the music that inspires our community.
Twin Cities PBS – TPT. I’ve long loved the work that our local PBS station does… they not only show PBS’s extraordinary programming, but create award-winning programming of their own. Minnesota Original and Lowertown Line, for example, are Emmy-winning series that showcase the best of local talent, and give them a larger platform to reach larger audiences. TPT has also reconfigured its studio to include the new Street Space performing venue, making it a top venue in Lowertown, St. Paul.
Girl Friday Productions. This small company is a marvel. In terms of materials, it concentrates on American playwrights, and on plays that feature largish casts. They perform every other year, and their productions are eagerly awaited by people in the know. Their production a few years of Our Town a few years ago was a revelation—taking a familiar chestnut and giving it new levels of meaning. Street Scene, a story about immigration and a multi-ethnic neighborhood written last century, was also a revelation, and felt like it could have been written yesterday. I reviewed their last production, The Matchmaker, and it was a knocked-out-of-the-park home run. If you care about American theater—or insightful, revelatory productions—you need to get on their mailing list.
Theater Latté Da. This is another company with a reputation for turning out brilliant productions one after the other. It is committed to rigorous experimentation with music and story in ways that expand the idea of what musical drama can be, but is constantly engaging. Their production of Sweeney Todd became one of the season’s hottest tickets. Gypsy was a coup. Into the Woods, set in a German beer garden, was a sensation. Earlier this fall they scored another triumph with Ragtime, that again could not have been more timely, and their upcoming production of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a Twin Cities staple. It uses music to tell a powerful story of the famous “Christmas Truce” that spontaneously broke out during World War I, and always feels timely. One of the things I greatly value about the company is that it is bold. It pushes boundaries in terms of storytelling, music, and acting in ways that seem fresh and… well, vital.
One Voice Mixed Chorus. This is a scrappy ensemble that not only does great work in the community, but also has a long record of hitting above its weight class. It is Minnesota’s LGBT and allies choruses, and one of the largest and most significant in the country. It has tackled a wide variety of issues over the years with a powerful mix of wit, wisdom, humor, and strength. One concert in particular has stayed with me—a concert dedicated to “unsilencing” LGBT and Jewish music of the Holocaust, which featured Janet Horvath of the Minnesota Orchestra on cello. Later this spring, they will present a gender-bending production of The Pirates of Penzance. Kudos also for their extraordinary work in local schools to fight bullying.
* * *
This are my top arts choices, but I’d love to hear other suggestions… and why you love them. Drop a line in the comments below!