Are you ready to rock, Republicans?

This is why Minneapolis has the coolest mayor: This morning, at the press conference in the Crystal Court of the IDS building announcing the Spark24 arts festival, there was R.T. Rybak, tieless and bopping his head to an electrified ukelele played by one of the festival’s participants, Lucy Michell. This isn’t news to me–I’ve seen him join the kickline of the Rockettes at the Orpheum Theater and once, at the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe, he smashed a guitar then asked the media if anyone wanted to join him for a beer (“I’ve got a half hour til a Council meeting,” he said).

But actually, it’s the partnership between Rybak and arts booster Scott Mayer that’s truly beneficial. Seeing them together this morning, a couple of energetic, positive guys who get things done, it’s clear that for all the bad news in the arts recently, it’s not for lack of effort on these guys’ part. You could argue that other cities do more directly for the arts and be right. You’d also be right to suggest that no one else is doing things like Mayer (Rybak called him a “cultural icon”) to elevate their profile, from the Ivey Awards to this Spark24 idea of bringing together a 24-hour sampler of Twin Cities troupes to showcase our arts scene during the Republican National Convention.

Here’s the scoop: From 5 pm on Satuday, August 30, to 5 pm on Sunday, August 31, nearly 30 groups will perform for a half-hour each–and they’re not just the sort of good-time family string bands the local parks often specialize in (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In true Mayer fashion, it’s egalitarian. A sampler: The Alarmists, perhaps the most solid and exciting newish indie band in town, play at 2 pm on Saturday in Orchestra Hall, Zenon Dance performs at 9 pm on Peavey Plaza, and Desdemona enlivens the night owls at 5:45 am at Orchestra Hall. That’s right, she’s kind enough to get out of bed to rock you in the middle of the night for just half an hour. The choirs must have drawn the short straws: VocalEssence is at 6:45 am the next morning, the Gay Men’s Chorus at 8:15…

The idea is that while all the TV cameras are focused on the Twin Cities that week, we’ll have something to show the world besides skyways and potholes and broken bridges. It’s Mayer-Rybak’s hope that some of the delegates might even be intrigued enough by our cultural scene to come back. Could be. If nothing else, they’ll get the idea that the arts are important–to us, and maybe to the country (hey, what a concept!). A couple months ago, when I first heard more details about this initiative from Mayer, almost nothing was nailed down. That it all came together so quickly is a testament to his pulling power in this town. Let the pols debate their platform in St. Paul–in Minneapolis, we’ll be rocking.


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