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COMO PARK CONSERVATORY

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T. S. Eliot had it all wrong. March, not April, is the cruelest month. March is a tease, a trap; it comes on strong, hands over an unexpected gift—a daffodil, a day of sunshine—then smothers all hope with a blanket of cold snow. Which is why, when the days turn to talk of high-school hockey and March Madness, we head to the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, at Como Park in St. Paul. Under the crystal dome, we unfurl from winter’s crouch. The air is humid and warm, perfumed with the scents of papaya, fig, and mahogany. Change seems possible. This is a place called hope. The conservatory’s Spring Flower Show opens March 21. comoparkconservatory.org
 

 



THE NORTHSTAR STAT

Political fortunes:
Are Minnesotans as philanthropic as we like to think? According to one recent study, that would seem to depend on whether you consider giving money to Michele Bachmann to be a philanthropic endeavor. Scarborough Research found that people in the Twin Cities certainly are generous: 14 percent of households in the area gave money last year to arts or cultural organizations; 20 percent gave to medical or health-care groups; 26 percent gave to social-service organizations; and a whopping 54 percent gave to religious groups. And yet, in none of those categories did the Twin Cities attain the top ranking for giving. In fact, there was only one category in which the metro was tops last year: donations to political organizations, with 16 percent of households giving money to one political group or another.
 


WHAT I'M READING: Stephanie Hansen

Hansen, a businesswoman and on-air personality for FM107, has to keep up on everything from politics to pop psychology. Here’s what she’s into now: Books Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter, a memoir by Phoebe Damrosch; The Monsters of Templeton, a novel by Lauren Groff Magazines The Week, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Gourmet and Food & Wine. Websites Salon, Broadsheet, Jezebel, and The Daily Beast


Rybak Revisited

R. T. Rybak has kicked off his bid for a third term as mayor of Minneapolis. But he didn’t start out looking like the second-coming of Don Fraser. Some highs and lows of his tenure:

January 2002:Takes office.

LOW: A botched North Side drug raid sparks riots, compelling Rybak to submit to years of federal mediation between police and the community.

HIGH: Block E opens with the mayor smashing a guitar at Hard Rock Cafe.

LOW: Requests that police officers not speak with reporters before consulting with the city’s communications department.

LOW: Receives ticket after forgetting to turn off his Prius before leaving the vehicle. It rolls into a snowbank.

HIGH: Appoints Bonnie Bleskachek, the first openly gay fire chief in the country.

HIGH: Celebrating his re-election, Rybak leaps into a crowd of supporters—and body-surfs.

LOW: Calls for Bleskachek’s removal after multiple lawsuits cite her for sexual harassment.

HIGH: No longer “boy mayor,” Rybak is widely praised for his response to the I-35W bridge collapse.

LOW: Five high-ranking black police officers sue the city, alleging racial discrimination in the department.

HIGH: The city records a second consecutive year of double-digit decreases in violent crime.
 


Boom and Bust

Target, Best Buy, 3M—it seems like every company in Minnesota is laying off employees. But some local businesses are doing just fine. Here are three:

Hamburgers:
Fuddruckers, with six Minnesota franchises, hasn’t seen an impact in sales due to the recession. “That’s the American way! We’re holding steady,” said Todd Kimpel, director of local operations. “God love the burgers.”

Gold dealers:
With the value of gold up, it’s boom time for those who deal in precious metals. “Gold jewelry is one of the few things we buy in our lives that, for as much as we spend on it, it has no utilitarian use. When people need money, it’s the first thing they get rid of,” says Joe Beasy, co-owner of the Gold Guys at the Mall of America.

No Frills Health Clubs:
People are trading down, but not giving up gym memberships. Minnesota-based Snap Fitness has seen membership numbers rise all over the state. “Fitness is not as much a luxury item as a necessity,” says Patrick Strait, Snap’s marketing communications manager. “It’s still important to people, but they’re looking for more affordable options.”
 


A Perfect Storm

For Minnesota’s colleges, financial worries are only the beginning 

BY JOEL HOEKSTRA

Academe might seem a perfect place to weather an economic downturn. Nothing says job security like a tenured professorship, right? And what member of the Class of 2009 doesn’t envy the frosh, anchored in the safe harbor of the Ivory Tower as recent alums sail headlong into the squall of a bearish job market?

But Wall Street’s woes have had more impact on Minnesota’s colleges and universities than you might think. And the financial lashing came just as administrators were beginning to turn their attention to a host of other problems. Here’s what they’re up against.

» Shrinking Endowments
Macalester College’s endowment—the largest among the state’s private institutions—declined 15 percent between July 1 and November 30, 2008, dropping from $665 million to $538 million. Carleton’s fell 18.6 percent during the same span. But both outperformed the national average, a decline of 22.5 percent, according to a recent by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

» Unpredictable Enrollments
The financial crisis doesn’t seem to have impacted application rates at most Minnesota institutions, and most of them will mail out acceptance letters later this month. But Michael Kyle, vice president and dean of enrollment at St. Olaf College, notes that applicants have until May to seal the deal. Additional market turmoil could impact enrollments—especially among students who don’t qualify for federal financial aid. Traditional sources of private financing, like home-equity loans, are almost impossible to find. “Nonfederal loans have mostly dried up for families,” says David B. Laird Jr., president of the Minnesota Private College Council.

» Shrinking High-School Populations
Minnesota colleges and universities will have a smaller talent pool to select from as the nation’s teenage population dwindles, mirroring a decline in birth rates that began two decades ago. The number of high-school graduates is expected to drop 3.9 percent nationally between 2010 and 2015, says Jon McGee, vice president for enrollment, planning, and public affairs at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. The falloff in Minnesota is expected to be even greater—6.5 percent—upping the competition between schools like St. John’s, where 80 percent of students are Minnesotans, and its regional rivals.
 


KEEPING TRACK

EAGLES EYED

Each March, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha celebrates the migration of bald eagles up the Mississippi River. Here, some numbers on MN’s relationship with our national symbol:

1,312 Nesting pairs of bald eagles that call Minnesota home
1 Number of U.S. states that are home to more nesting pairs than Minnesota
697 Number of bald eagles seen along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, between Lake City and Wabasha, on a single day in 2000
2007 Year the bald eagle was taken off the endangered species list
2007 Year the National Eagle Center opened its 14,000-square-foot facility along the Mississippi River
$4.3 million Cost of the building
10,000 Approximate number of monthly visitors to the National Eagle Center
3 Number of captive bald eagles that call the National Eagle Center home
1 Number of those eagles that have appeared on The Colbert Report


Green Day

Where to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like a grownup

» Karan Casey at the Cedar, March 15

The show: Formerly of Solas, the Irish folk-music supergroup, Casey uses cello and piano to add a classical sheen to traditional tunes.
The tipple: Belly-up to the mahogany bar at Town Hall Brewery for an Irish Red Ale or a few pints of the black stuff: Potato Stout.
 

» St. Patrick’s Day at the Landmark Center, March 17

The show: This St. Paul showcase of local acts features enough high-octane music and high-kicking Colleens to fill a Riverdance tour.
The tipple: Tuck into the bar of the St. Paul Hotel under the portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who camped out here with Zelda in 1921.
 

» The Rogue Tenors at Orchestra Hall, March 20 and 21

The show: Two of the three original Irish Tenors, Ronan Tynan and John McDermott, reel off their eclectic repertoire with the Minnesota Orchestra.
The tipple: With arguably the best-looking bar (and crowd) in town, the Local is perfect for a flight of whiskies after you’ve flown the show.
 


The Curtain

Who’s up, who’s down in local arts and culture

RISING

Raye Birk
The local mainstay steps into the lead of the Guthrie’s A Delicate Balance when star Tom Tammi bows out
Penumbra Theatre
Its first-ever financial campaign raises $3 million
Minnesota Orchestra
Its budget is balanced a second consecutive year
ICEBOX Gallery
The venerable photography showplace reduces staff and exhibits
Flanders Contemporary Art
The high-profile gallery declares bankruptcy and temporarily closes

FALLING


West Bank Rebirth

The Cedar, at 20, redefines itself—and the local concert scene 

BY TIM GIHRING

Ani DiFranco, Cesária Évora, Loudon Wainwright III—they all played the Cedar Cultural Center. A mainstay of the West Bank music scene in Minneapolis, the Cedar hosted these artists long before many Minnesotans knew who they were (and sometimes even after they did). That’s how a venue with only 450 folding chairs—and a corps of volunteers—became internationally known, a kind of musical living room.

As the Cedar turns 20 this month, however, it’s trying to climb out of the basement. Several Minnesota foundations, redefining their commitment to the arts, have slashed grants for mid-sized arts organizations like the Cedar. The nonprofit venue is now staring at a $75,000 hole even as private donations have doubled. In the short term, says Cedar director Rob Simonds, “It probably means less risk-taking.” DiFranco, who played to just 41 people during her Cedar debut, wouldn’t pass muster if she were to arrive on the scene today.

Yet Simonds, who took over in 2007, sees opportunity in somewhat unexplored territory, at least for a theater that made its reputation on folk and world music: the modern-rock scene. “If you look at the top [rock] records of last year,” he says, “it’s music that’s quieter, more subtle.” Perfect, in other words, for the Cedar’s intimate setting. The Cedar is also expanding its reach into jazz, performance-art collaborations with the Walker Art Center, movies (once a porn theater, the Cedar’s original screen was recently resurrected), and even contemporary country music (booking rising star Jamey Johnson, dubbed the “new Man in Black” by Rolling Stone).

“Arts patrons are ultimately going to have to decide which arts organizations they want to keep around,” says Simonds. He’s hoping they’ll base their decisions on quality—no matter the genre. “If it’s music worth listening to,” he says, “we’re interested in booking it.”


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