Best of MN, 2019: Arts & Culture

Lizzo, Amy Klobuchar, Dua Saleh, ”Sahan Journal,” and more put Minnesota on the map for arts and culture in 2019
Lizzo at the Palace Theatre, 2019
Lizzo at the Palace Theatre, 2019

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

Arts & Culture

Musician: Lizzo

Icon-in-the-making Lizzo lived (and thrived) in the Twin Cities for five years in the early 2010s. Though not Minnesota-born, “that’s where my career began,” she told us. While here, she recorded with Prince, performed statewide, and was stardom-bound by the time she relocated to the West Coast. Her time here left an impact on Minnesota and vice versa.

On her Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit, “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo drops a sly reference to her old home: “Fresh photos with the bomb lighting / new man on the Minnesota Vikings.” (It got popular enough that a Green Bay Packers-country radio station censored it.) And dig up “Worship” from her Coconut Oil EP to hear funkiness echoing the Minneapolis sound. Her latest album, Cuz I Love You, shows her still-evolving artistry, and she makes each  TV performance count—even scoring a 12-foot-tall, Burnsville-made inflatable booty for the MTV Video Music Awards.

Lizzo has more Instagram followers than Minnesota has people, has been featured on covers of national magazines like ELLE, and rocked Philadelphia’s Made in America festival while her idol Beyoncé watched in the wings. Perhaps most importantly, she keeps pushing a message of love and acceptance for ourselves and others. No city, state, nation, or planet can lay claim to Lizzo, but Minnesota is so glad to get so much time with her. –Reed Fischer

Filmmaker: Jimmy Chin

Mankato native Jimmy Chin photographed his ski descent of the never-before-shredded Mt. Everest; filmed his and his friends’ first-ever ascent of a Himalayan confidence-buster called Shark’s Fin, in documentary Meru; and bagged an Academy Award this year for capturing his friend’s no-ropes scramble up the 3,000-foot El Capitan cliff, in Free Solo. The only edge for us is our seat’s, waiting for Chin’s next cinematic project, slated for 2020.

Hieu Minh Nguyen
Hieu Minh Nguyen

Courtesy of Hieu Minh Nguyen

Poet: Hieu Minh Nguyen

Since he picked up national praise for books This Way to the Sugar (2014) and Not Here (2018), it’s heartening to read so much of the Twin Cities in St. Paul-raised Hieu Minh Nguyen’s vulnerable, slam-influenced poetry.

Radio Host: Jill Riley

For the past decade, The Current Morning Show host Jill Riley has eased many of us into our days with needed wit, humanity, and a breadth of music. Producing radio that matters in 2019 isn’t easy, but Riley has proven herself as formidable, fierce, and, above all, fun.

New News Source: Sahan Journal

Launched by MPR News journalist Mukhtar Ibrahim, Sahan Journal is an essential online resource bringing the oft-untold stories of Minnesota immigrants and refugees to the forefront.

New Cultural Curator:

We’re a tad biased because this site’s transplant couple, Ashlea Halpern and Andrew Parks, contributes to Minnesota Monthly. But even if they didn’t, Minnevangelist is still a must-follow for a vibrant view of how to live, shop, eat, drink, and Insta to the fullest in the land of 10,000 lakes.

Jim Denomie, "Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill," 2007
Jim Denomie, “Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill,” 2007

Courtesy of Jim Denomie and Bockley Gallery

Artist: Jim Denomie

Franconia-based artist Jim Denomie paints colorful, irreverent, political renderings of U.S. history in the epic-sprawl style of Hieronymus Bosch, as dreamed from a Native perspective. February’s Standing Rock Paintings exhibit, at the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, did what much art longs to do: upset a politician (Rep. Josh Heintzeman). This year, Denomie became the first Native American to win the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, Minnesota’s highest artistic honor.

Inspirational Figure: Gabe Grunewald

This world-class runner from Perham, Minnesota, was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009, but kept on competing and fighting. Gabe Grunewald died in Minneapolis this past June, and what lives on is the Brave Like Gabe foundation’s message of hope for others with rare cancers.

Small Talk: Arguing about Amy Klobuchar

As the 2020 election comes into focus, Minnesotans turn eyes to U.S.-senator-turned-presidential-hopeful Amy Klobuchar. Some braved the falling snow to cheer on her candidacy. Others are quick to bring up that the writers of Veep take inspiration from her fear-inducing managerial style. Klobuchar owns up to what she calls her “high standards” for herself, her staff, and her country. She’s brazenly authentic, and in politics, that counts for a lot. There’s a lot of race left—but the early “what if”s have already left their mark.

Dua Saleh
Dua Saleh

Photo by Izzy Commers

Vocalist: Dua Saleh

Dua Saleh has worn hats as an actor, spoken-word artist, and playwright, but this year, the multi-disciplinary artist’s career as a vocalist and musician really took off. Saleh dropped their first EP in January, Nūr, which had catchy, smart lyrics and a vocal tone evoking Billie Holiday. Since then, Saleh has been dropping videos, touring, and performing electrifying live shows in the Twin Cities with mesmerizing, bewitching charisma.

Fake News: The Nordly

Self-aware, self-deprecating, and somehow still reverent, these Onion-style satirical headlines about the Minnesota existence, on, totally get us.

Health Care Innovation: Transgender Health at Children’s Minnesota

Last year, Children’s Minnesota launched a Gender Health Program to provide comprehensive care for transgender and gender-diverse youth, including gender consultation and gender-affirming hormone treatment. It’s now one of about a dozen hospitals nationwide to dedicate a program to such services.

Real Estate Acquisition: Bob Dylan’s Childhood Home

Over the summer, Bill Pagel snagged one of the ultimate trophies a music fan can imagine: Robert Zimmerman’s old house in Hibbing. The best part for other Dylan fans? He plans to turn it into a museum.