In late November, the Walker Art Center and the men’s-clothing boutique Askov Finlayson hosted a panel discussion on Minnesota’s identity, which packed every seat in the house. The topic recently embedded in the zeitgeist, including in these very pages with Tim Gihring’s essay “Divorcing the Midwest” (August ’14), which explored the options for reflecting our affinity with Seattle and Northern California over Kansas and Missouri. (One of which was adopting “North,” emblazoned on Askov Finlayson caps, as a new regional identity.) The argument: We’re a progressive, cultured, innovative place, and Midwestern stereotypes are holding us back.
The Walker event opened with a laundry list of all things Minnesotan: Prince, the bundt pan, A Prairie Home Companion, miles upon miles of shoreline. But as soon as the discussion deepened, it became apparent that as much as we relish our state’s unique history, we can’t just keep reliving the legacy we’ve inherited. We can honor our past—our flour mills, Paul Wellstones, and Post-it notes—but we have to create new distinctions to define our present. Our very fate depends on it.
To thrive in the 21st century, Minnesota’s identity—in essence, its brand—must persuade the rest of the world (and maybe even, once and for all, our self-deprecating selves) that this is a great place to live. If we want to lure talent from New York and Buenos Aires, we can’t retreat to our cabins and let everyone think of us as hot-dish (er, grape-salad—thanks, New York Times) eaters from flyover country.
What has distinguished us—and what I believe will continue to be our calling card, especially after researching this month’s cover story, “Future Twin Cities” (p. 48)—is an identity rooted in innovation. I had several fascinating conversations with local experts in key areas—demographics, economics, transportation, design—about the trends and changes that they predict will be most influential in 2020, 2040, and beyond. No sign of jetpacks or robot maids yet, but the substantial shifts in our population’s diversity, our energy sources, and climate change are poised to have much greater impact than the forthcoming Jetsons-esque self-driving cars (even if those things can out-steer us on ice-slicked roads).
Pervasive through all these discussions was the belief that while Minnesotans have it pretty good now, we also have the drive and ingenuity to make things better. Whatever we call ourselves and however we affiliate ourselves, we’ll be doing what Minnesotans have done since the first settlers survived the harsh winters on the prairie: adapting, persevering, and innovating.