Conversations on Art

Why they love Minnesota, why classical music should be intoxicating, and the bizarre story of why one gallery went up in flames—more tidbits from our interviews with the seven Twin Cities artists to watch this fall.

These artists are featured in the October issue’s “7 Artists to Watch.”

Terrence Payne

Artist and operator of Rosalux Gallery

Your style is instantly recognizable: graphic backgrounds, illustration-like images of boxers, cowboys, and swimmers. How did your style evolve?

After college I did the backpacking across Europe thing then found myself living in my girlfriend’s parents’ basement in Iowa. I won some money off her dad in a card game and said, “Hey, I’m moving to Minneapolis.” I wasn’t the best planner at 22.

You have to figure out the discipline of making art for yourself. And I needed to get a new body of work together. Anything I brought from college was much darker. The goth kids got the A’s in college. It’s a lot to ask a young person to figure out what they want to be as an artist. It’s a lot more practical to tell a kid to build a bong out of whatever you can find.

After a year and a half of school, I had started drawing things over and over again. And that evolved into the idea of using different objects that people have built-in associations with—they can connect with what I’m doing.

How would you describe the Minneapolis visual arts scene right now?
If you want to compare it to New York, it’s still a lower cost of living here and you can afford to take more risks—but you can’t sell your work. People expect you to charge by the square foot because that’s what they’re used to at Home Depot. The more savvy artists among us are promoting ourselves on the Web. You can make a pretty decent living if you build a following in other cities.

The Minneapolis gallery scene has changed a lot. It used to be more oriented toward the commercial galleries—the goal was to get a show at Flanders or Thomas Barry. When we started Rosalux, I thought, the galleries are taking 50 percent, what the hell? I can write a press relesase, I can unlock a door, why do we have a pay someone?

Rosalux reopened in northeast Minneapolis this year after closing at Open Book. But that wasn’t your first gallery, right?
No, the first was next to an auto-body store—which blew up on Mother’s Day. I was working at the Uptown Bar at the time, and this guy comes in and says, “Hey, your gallery’s burning down. It was a front for a meth lab. I drive out there and a bunch firemen are standing around eating White Castle. So I got the firemen to help me drag the art out of the gallery.

Minneapolis is cracking down on alcohol at galleries and art studios. What’s your take?
I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s tacky to ask people for a donation and it’s such a hassle to check IDs and such. Plus, there’s a whole group of alcoholics who look out in the papers and find out where the openings are—they make the circuit and take the free wine and get hammered. And if there’s food there, even better. At our grand opening at the new space for Rosalux, I’d forgotten about this. And then, sure enough, the bus pulled up and they all rolled off, and I was like, here they come.

“Flourish: Jennifer Davis, Erika Olson Gross, Terrence Payne, and Joe Sinness” opens at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on October 22,

Namir Smallwood


You’re from New Jersey. How’d you wind up in Minnesota?

I got a flyer in the mail about the Guthrie’s BFA program, and I almost threw it in the garbage. I had no intention of coming to Minnesota, but my mother implored me to at least inquire about auditions. I’m ever grateful that she did, because that’s where I learned how to act, how to harness and craft my talent. I got to work and meet with some of the very best people out there.

And you’ve survived a few winters.
When I came here for callbacks in March of 2002, it was 27 degrees below zero, and I had never experienced that kind of cold before. There’s just nothing like that in New Jersey… and I came here anyway. Let’s just say I was impressed by the program. And I’m really glad I came.

What have you been drawn to about acting?
I love transforming into someone else. Whoever I am on stage, I’m nothing like that in person. But when I inhabit that character, when the audience is with me, when I have their undivided attention, that’s the best feeling in the world to me. To take somebody on a journey, that’s one of the greatest thing I can do as an actor, as an artist.

Smallwood stars in Ten Thousand Things’s Life is a Dream, opening October 29, Open Book,


Emily Gunyou Halaas


You moved to New York to hone your chops. What was that like?

I don’t really have the personality that it takes to be in New York. You have to be among the most ambitious people that have ever existed, and I just am not one of those. I wanted to be able to have a family and be near my family and still be able to work, and that just was not going to happen in New York.

But you’ve stuck with acting.
I struggle with it all the time: Is this a useful thing to be doing? It can feel very indulgent when the world is falling apart and I should probably be doing something like trying to cure cancer. But I keep coming back to the notion that theatre champions and fosters community. It gives communities a kind of immediate feedback on its humanity that I don’t think anything else does. You have to do it together, it has to be a group of people, it has to be live. It’s a service that we all need.

We’re glad you returned from New York.
I love it here. I just love Minnesotans. I love our hard-working attitude, our love of each other and the land, our pride in our local celebrities and our buildings and cities and all the things that are ours. We just love Minnesota and we love Minnesotans, and we love it when people move here from somewhere else.

Gunyou Halaas stars in the Guthrie’s The Master Butchers Singing Club running through November 6,

Steven Copes

Violinist with Accordo, concertmaster of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

There’s often talk of the need to reinvent classical music, in order to find new fans.

You know, it’s one thing to be accessible as far as cost. I get that. And you don’t have to so serious about the presentation. But I don’t like the dumbing-down of the intensity of the music. It’s great, soul-nourishing music as it is. And I think classical music will always find an audience as long as people are dedicated to their art.

Accordo is now the house chamber group of the Southern Theater. How is that different from playing where, say, the SPCO does?
You will get people who want to drink and go to a concert—and why not? We hear this all the time there: I’m not worried that I’m wearing the wrong clothes to the concert. Or wondering when to clap.

Musicians have different routines and superstitions on the day of a concert. What’s yours?
Some people don’t talk to anybody, some people go on an hour bike ride. I know someone who doesn’t touch his cello for a half-hour before a concert. For me, it depends what I’m playing. But mostly, I don’t want the concert to get too far from view—it’s like a child you don’t want to run too far from. You want to keep an edge—relaxed but with an edge. Be in the moment.

Accordo plays November 21 and 22, Southern Theater,

Alison Scott


You opened for Bon Jovi this summer. What on earth was that like?

All kinds of drama. I was the only female in the group of eight bands competing on KQRS to open for him. And we Facebook-harassed everyone we knew. We were told we’d won the contest, then did all these pres releases and radio interviews and two hours later they called to say I didn’t win the contest.

And Bon Jovi himself intervened, right?
He was on his way to a homeless shelter here when he read the newspaper where this was all talked about and called and made everything happen so we could perform. I was in Milwaukee at the time and it was, like, six hours from showtime. I turned around and drove directly to the Xcel Energy Center. No time to shower or get clean clothes. No time to freak out either.

What’s he like?
His hair is so famous, and it’s just as nice in person. His stylist lent me his blow-dryer, too. He’s very nice and stopped by my dressing room to thank me for being there.

Who are your fans?
They’re all over the place. Depends on the venue. If we play at the Dakota, we get an older, sophisticated crowd; a show at the Varsity draws a much wider, younger crowd. The first record was very heavily jazz influenced and it did appeal more to an older generation. This record [the new album Chinese Whispers] is younger and more current and we’ve been lucky to keep the fans we had before while also gaining a younger crowd.

You have a long history with the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant.
I used to play there for lunch every Wednesday for nine months.

Kevin Bowe, a guitarist who’s played with many rockers in town, including Paul Westerberg has really devoted himself to your career. How has he influenced your music?
Kevin and I co-write a lot. I always write the chorus first and then the melody and then the words. He writes the hook of the song first.

You can tell which songs we co-wrote together—he brings a lot more of that rock edge to things that I normally write on my own.

I think we definitely with this whole record tried to make it more up-tempo and easy to listen to. We make a point to lyrically write something that’s universal, even if it’s based on a specific experience that I had.

What did you listen to growing up?
My bandmates make fun of my family; they call them the Partridges. Both of my parents are music majors and both siblings are into music. We had lots of sing-a-longs growing up. We’d get together and have music night. And my parents have pretty eclectic tastes. My dad is very Beatles-heavy, Simon and Garfunkel. My mom is much more into r&b and soul music, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

I think the first cd I got was a gift in seventh grade: No Doubt’s first record, Tragic Kingdom. Well, I did have some cassettes, some Raffi….

Get the new album, Chinese Whispers, at


David Hanbury

Performance artist

You’ve been nominated to be one our seven artists to watch. How’s that feel?

It’s my birthday, and I’m already wearing a crown with Birthday Boy written on the side in fluorescent marker. Everywhere I go, people are beeping their horns and yelling “Happy Birthday!” So this is an awesome birthday present.

Who’s Mrs. Smith, your recurring character now at the Bryant-Lake Bowl?
When Mrs. Smith appears, there is no David Hanbury. She is there the whole night, and I never break character. She’s like everybody’s post-menopausal, neurotic, crazy aunt, and as the relationship has grown between her and the audience, she’s grown, too. She almost feels like a totally separate, totally unique person now.

You came to Minnesota from Boston. What’s convinced you to stay?
I came to Minnesota for the first time in 2007 to do the show God Save Gertrude at the Playwrights’ Center. It was in late January, it was the dead of winter, and I really didn’t know what to expect. It was so unbelievably cold, I couldn’t imagine anyone would want to come out and see this totally weird play. It was a small production, and we didn’t get a lot of advance press or reviews, but the run sold out. It was a huge success, and it was all word of mouth. I just thought to myself: this is the place to come if you want to do something different. This is the place for me. ”¨”¨

“Mrs. Smith’s Halloween Spooktacular!” plays October 16, 23, and 29, Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater,

Vanessa Voskuil

Dancer, choreographer, head of the Dance Film Project

How did this Dance Film Project [screening December 17 and 18 at the Southern Theater] get started?

A couple years ago, the owner of Cinema Revolution video store in Minneapolis sent out an open call to the community for people to submit short dances for the camera, mostly through customers of his store. The second year, I took it over and we screened at Intermedia Arts and got an overwhelming response, with 27 films.

So what is dance on film?
I think it’s just a wonderful merger of these two different art forms and a wonderful way for dance to be seen in a different context and accessible in a different way. It’s like this new thing. Academics are just starting to get on board, defining what it is. A new journal is now being run out of Madison [Wisconsin] for papers about what this is: screen-dance or cine-dance, dance-film.

How is it different from the old Busby Berkeley musicals choreographed for movies?
We’re choreographing specifically for the camera not just documenting a dance on camera. Cine-dance is the Hollywood-type version, or screen-dance. Those dances could have been performed anywhere and were simply captured on film. For us, these dances could not be outside of this film context, the mediums are essential for each other. It’s not like you just video-taped a dance you made.

And what possibilities does that create?
For lots of dance performances, the audience has to take in the whole environment—the stage, the proscenium. You’re looking at the whole picture. And you’re choreographing for that experience. With this dance on film, you can direct the camera to the face or the hands, shooting the camera for the emotions and environment. You have those additional tools.

Dance Film Project screens December 17 and 18, Southern Theater,

These artists are featured in the October issue’s “7 Artists to Watch.”