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Colleen Sheehy, Published April 09 2014

NxNW: Arts opportunities on uptick in F-M

Exciting things are stirring in Fargo. Can you feel it? I’m not talking about the turning of the season (finally) after the long, cold winter. I’m referring to the stunning level of high-quality art opportunities that keep coming every week and are growing in frequency.

In one 24-hour period recently, I attended three world-class art experiences.

First was the world premiere of The Poe Project, commissioned and produced by FM Opera. It was stunning and surprising for someone like me who is still developing a taste for opera. Though inspired by a 19th-century author, this was contemporary performance-edgy and inventively staged.

Next was Contempo Physical Dance, presented at The Scheels Center for the Performing Arts at Oak Grove Lutheran School.

The group, a company from Minneapolis brought to town by Concordia College, dazzled us with their athleticism, grace and sexiness – done in a style that was part modern dance and part Brazilian movement. (The company director/choreographer is from Brazil.)

Following that, I high-tailed it to The Aquarium in downtown Fargo to catch Future Islands, a fairly obscure indie band from North Carolina that caused a sensation when they made their television debut on the David Letterman show a few weeks ago.

For them to play Fargo was a real coup, as many touring bands skip our town for bigger markets. The packed club and avid fans impressed the band, whose lead singer, Samuel Herring, is one of the most compelling live performers to come along recently.

This past weekend, I caught Iris Dement, who I last saw at the old Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis about 10 years ago. Here she opened for Mason Jennings at the Fargo Theatre. Her piercing Delta twang is old school country compared to the more mellow voices and big sounds of popular country acts today, and she isn’t so well known, having taken some time off from producing records.

What excites me about all of these experiences is the level of experimentation, openness and risk by arts organizations, venues and audiences.

Only a month ago there was another world premiere here, this one at MSUM – James Sewell Ballet’s interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. MSUM had worked with the Twin Cities company to support the project and present its first public performances in our community.

It was a gutsy performance – not sublime, graceful dance but raw, brutal, sexual (but not erotic) and scary, as befits the many circles of hell through which Virgil tours Dante. The performance was breathtaking. I felt honored to have witnesses the premiere.

A few weeks ago, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony put on a performance of British rock songs, including “London Calling” by the punk band The Clash, as well as the “Downton Abbey” theme.

These adventurous, experimental and risk-taking art events are paralleled by some of our visual art seen here recently.

At Plains Art Museum, we take seriously our responsibility to introduce new art ideas, approaches and creators to our audiences, as seen in the My Generation exhibition of emerging artists, which closed last weekend, or in The One-Minute Film Festival, still on view. Experimental approaches to ceramics can be seen in the Red River Reciprocity exhibition, also now on view.

Tania Blanich at the Rourke Art Museum is to be applauded for re-imagining what that venue and its programming can become. The Moritz Goetze exhibition from last year, the first in the U.S. for this contemporary German artist, is now going to New York City and to Germany.

This artistic risk taking makes for exciting and heady experiences. They are paralleled by the growing entrepreneur scene, where people like Greg Tehven of Emerging Prairie brings people together from disparate professions, mixing artists, designers, business leaders and students to share ideas and push forward new ways of creating and living.

All of this, combined with new food venues, new galleries and new stores, makes it feel that Fargo-Moorhead is at a tipping point, moving to a new level of innovative endeavors.

The appetite for adventure from all avenues is contagious, and people are responding. May this spirit continue to grow, and may we embrace new ideas as important in the advancement of our communities.


NxNW is an occasional arts and culture column written by Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo.