The Cool Front

One afternoon a few weeks ago, in the midst of putting together this month’s issue, Minnesota Monthly’s art director, Brian Johnson, walked into my office and scrawled a few words on the message board that hangs on the wall: “Cool = Hell,” he wrote. Then, without saying a word, he turned around and walked out.

Brian tends to flaunt his emotions about as often as Dick Cheney, so the fact that he had chosen to express his frustration at all was a clear signal that he was on the verge of a full-scale breakdown. (Indeed, I spent much of the month wondering if he might “accidentally” shoot me in the face.)

His aggravation was understandable, because he faced an almost absurdly difficult task. He had to come up with a cover image for this month’s feature package, one that would evoke that most ineffable and indefinable of qualities: cool. It didn’t help that it was often easier to describe what our cover package was not about rather than what it was about. After all, from the moment our staff began to talk about producing a “cool” issue, we knew that we didn’t want it to be about fads or hipsters, about Twin Cities nightlife or the local dating scene. Most emphatically, we didn’t want it to be a recitation of others’ validation; Minnesota had not suddenly become a dynamic, interesting place simply because some yahoo at the New York Times deemed it so.

No, what we wanted to do with this issue was explore the state’s place in creating cool. Over the last several decades, the Twin Cities has been transformed, from the proverbial cold Omaha—our industries dominated by agriculture, our culture as bland as green-bean casserole—into one of the country’s creative centers, a place that consistently spawns forward-thinking design, art, architecture, music, advertising, public policy, and technology. How the hell did that happen?

There are myriad ways of getting to the heart of that question, of course, which is why you’ll find a number of different kinds of stories in this issue. There’s senior writer Tim Gihring’s fascinating essay explaining the origins and improbability of Minnesota’s brand of cool. There’s managing editor Joel Hoekstra’s story on Target Corporation, our best-known merchandiser of cool. Told as an oral history, the latter piece is a definitive account of how the company transformed itself—thanks to brilliant marketing and design—from a Kmart competitor into the retail world’s foremost supplier of “cheap chic.” There’s also a photo portfolio, celebrating local innovators who are keeping us on the cutting edge of cool, and a handy—if not totally scientific—chart that will help you identify where you fit in among the state’s coolest residents.

In the end, if you’re wondering, Brian turned out to be just fine. After some quiet contemplation, some rather vivid but unprintable critiques of the editor’s judgment, and a lot of unintelligible grunting, he managed to come up with an idea for a cover—a great one, actually—that does exactly what we wanted it do. All without a single shot fired. Now that’s cool.

Andrew Putz