Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Is this the year for the Shubert Theater?

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A rendering of the proposed remodeling of the Shubert Theater in downtown Minneapolis. The $37 million project connects the Shubert Theater by atrium with the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Artspace, the organization developing the Shubert, hopes to receive $15 million in bonding money from state lawmakers this year. (Image courtesy of Artspace)
It's been six years since the Shubert Theater was hoisted on dollies and moved to a new location in downtown Minneapolis. A group called Artspace has been trying to transform the turn-of-the-century theater into the state's premier venue for dance. While it's been a struggle, this could be the year everything falls into place.

Minneapolis, Minn. — There are few in the Twin Cities dance scene who don't like the idea of a building with the history and grandeur of the Shubert Theater becoming a home for dance.

"I think it would be great, if it works out," says Minneapolis choreographer Kristin Van Loon.

If Van Loon sounds slightly doubtful, it could reflect the difficulties the Shubert project has encountered since being rolled into place on the corner of 5th and Hennepin.

Artspace has raised $13.7 million of the $37 million it needs to refurbish the Shubert, and connect it by atrium to what is now the Hennepin Center for the Arts.

In its efforts to raise the rest of the money, Artspace has been repeatedly turned down for bonding at the state Legislature. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak doomed its chances in 2002 by declaring it wasn't a priority.

Artspace ended up removing the Shubert from consideration, primarily to clear the way for the Guthrie Theater's bonding request.

But Kim Motes, director of the project for Artspace, says the Twin Cities art scene still needs a place like the Shubert.

"There isn't a flagship venue for dance, in the way that theater has the Guthrie, visual art has the Walker and the Art Institute, music has Orchestra Hall," Motes says. "Dance doesn't have that."

Motes predicts having a marquee venue like the Shubert will raise the visibility of dance and increase audiences, while rejuvenating a dead block downtown.

She says the 1,000-seat theater will become the home base for more than 20 local arts groups, including James Sewell Ballet and Minnesota Dance Theater. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has agreed in principle to use it as its Minneapolis venue.

Motes says The Minnesota Shubert Center has also already implemented an education program she thinks will become a model for arts groups throughout the state. It's basically an online classroom taught by dancers and musicians, which can be hooked up with any school in the state.

"Using two-way interactive technology, Internet-based, artists are able to teach the classroom as if they were there," Motes says. "It really is extraordinary technology, and gets rid of that location barrier that can sometimes be a problem."

The project's statewide educational reach has been its major selling point with lawmakers.

Artspace has requested $15 million in state bonding money. Minneapolis officials have put the Shubert back on the top of its bonding priority list. Gov. Pawlenty allocated $1 million to the Shubert last year, so it came as a surprise when he didn't include it in his bonding bill this year.

"I think that project has merit," Pawlenty says. "But last year as we addressed that issue and were involved in the discussions, we were, shall we say, disappointed by the lack of commitment or full commitment by the Minneapolis delegation."

"I know no one in the Minneapolis delegation who is not supporting this," says State Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, who admits to being somewhat baffled by the governor's statement.

Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, chairs the House Capital Investment Committee. Dorman views Pawlenty's exclusion of the Shubert from his bonding bill as a negotiating strategy. He thinks the odds are in the Shubert's favor that its bonding request will be approved this session.

"I don't think it's an automatic," Dorman says. "It's not a lock. But I think it's more likely to happen than not happen."

If the bonding is approved, Artspace officials say construction can begin immediately on the Shubert, which will then open in time for the 2008 fall dance season.

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