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What’s possible for HOTB, MayDay?

by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Bruce Silcox
HOTB has been a offering after-school and summer programs for kids at Little Earth, the Waite House, and Collaborative Village (a PPL project) for several years. About 150 kids are part of this year-round program that focuses on telling the stories of the Phillips neighborhoods and participants’ cultures. Along the way, children learn shadow puppeting, stilts, storytelling and more.

In the Heart of the Beast Theater (HOTB) has already said farewell to two staff members, and by June 2019 it won’t have any full-time staff left.

But it isn’t disappearing. 

Executive Director Corrie Zoll is hopeful about the organization’s future and believes it is full of exciting possibilities.

“This is an extremely painful moment,” Zoll admitted. “At the same time, I’m really looking forward to conversations with people about what is possible.”

WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?

HOTB announced in January its plans to significantly reduce its operations in 2019 and cut staff. Grants it had been counting on when the budget was made in August did not materialize.

 HOTB relies on a variety of funding sources, including foundations, donations, and grants. Complicating things is that most of the funding available for arts is given to new projects. Programs that are ongoing are not typically given the grants that are available, Zoll noted. While Minnesota is lucky to have so much money available for the arts courtesy of the Legacy Amendment, it is not given to fund ongoing projects either. HOTB does receive some operating support through the Legacy Amendment, so it is ineligible for the festival support program for MayDay.

Last year, HOTB had expected to receive a $30,000 foundation grant that it did not get, which meant that MayDay operated at a loss of over $50,000. This was covered by reserve funds but HOTB can’t continue to do that. For about the last 10 years, MayDay has operated at a loss of between $20-30,000, according to Zoll. 

After the 2016 election and through 2017, HOTB saw an increase in individual donations, which Zoll feels was from a desire to invest in what people believed in.  In 2018, there was a significant drop in donations. “Now it seems that people are much more scared of where the economy is going and being more cautious in their investments,” Zoll observed.

Prior to the cut, HOTB had 15 permanent staff members; nine were full-time and six were part-time. By June, there will be half as many staff members and no one will be full-time, not even Executive Director Zoll who expects to work three days a week. 

Max Haynes
A central ritual of the Mayday Ceremony in Powderhorn Park is the raising of the Tree of Life puppet as a yearly commitment: of  human communities to be in right reciprocal relationship with each other and the whole of creation,” wrote organizer Sandy Spieler in a letter annoucning that organizaing MayDay 2019 will be her last year. “Remembering insight from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., my prayer is that MayDay  be a promise to uphold and nourish the whole ecosystem, our Beloved Community,  with Power that is wedded to Love. Thank you for all that has been, and thank you for all that will be!” Spieler is one of the founders of MayDay (1975), and has midwifed the artistic part of MayDay since this beginning.

Staff members will leave as grants for their programs run out. 

HOBT will present Puppet Lab performances as planned March 15-16 and March 21-22. This will close out a project that began last June courtesy of a Jerome Foundation grant that focuses on providing support for early career artists.

Puppet Cabaret (an evening of short, experimental puppet acts) will still be presented on Feb. 14, and HOTB will continue to share the Avalon Theater as a rental venue for events and performances.

Many people in Phillips don’t know that HOTB has been a offering after-school and summer programs for kids at Little Earth, the Waite House, and Collaborative Village, pointed out Zoll. About 150 kids are part of this year-round program that focuses on telling the stories of the Phillips neighborhoods and participants’ cultures. Along the way, children learn shadow puppeting, stilts, storytelling and more.

For seven of the last eight years, this program has been funded by the State Arts Board, but it has not been funded for this year.

In the two and a half weeks after its announcement, HOTB received $20,000 in individual donations. It will continue fundraising for this year’s MayDay event, which planners began working on in September.

MAYDAY: PART OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD IDENTITY

HOTB has decided that 2019 will be the 45th and final year that it will solely produce its annual MayDay celebration. In recent years, HOBT’s MayDay brings in approximately $150,000 in income, mainly from individual donors. Annual costs for producing MayDay, however, generally land between $180,000 and $200,000.

MayDay 2019 will also be the last year that the event is led by Sandy Spieler, who has been a part of the event since the beginning. She decided a year ago that it was time to step aside to make space for new artists to lead.

Zoll has been the executive director of HOTB for the last 3.5 years, but as a 25-year resident of Midtown Phillips he’s been at the majority of the MayDay events. He recalls acting in a production at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, where he first heard about MayDay. 

“People there were talking about MayDay as the greatest moment of the year in Minneapolis,” Zoll stated.

They all told him he had to go – but had troubling explaining just what the event was. 

Corrie Zoll of Heart of the Beast

He went. “As an artist, at the time it struck me as exactly everything that art should be,” he said. “It was relevant. It was dealing with current things happening in society. It involved laying around in the sun in the grass. It was running into neighbors you haven’t seen all winter. People would participate in it on any level they wanted to.”

MayDay has become a part of the very identity of the neighborhoods it goes through, as well as the ones that are adjacent to East Phillips, West Phillips and Powderhorn Park neighborhoods, he pointed out. 

There are banners up on Lake Street and tiles embedded in the sidewalk. Many south Minneapolis garages house puppets. 

“For many people it is the most important holiday of the year,” said Zoll. “There are many stories of people who get engaged in the park on MayDay; who get married in the park on MayDay; or have their ashes scattered in the place where the Tree of Life happens. 

“It’s really humbling to realize people think of it this way.”

In 2016, 50,000 attended MayDay. It grew to 55,000 the next year, and 60,000 people came in 2018.

“The event has gotten too big for us to produce on our own,” acknowledged Zoll. “A MayDay with more genuinely shared ownership could be a much stronger MayDay and more inclusive.”

Perhaps puppets will be made at more locations than the HOTB location at the Avalon. Maybe it will become a weekend event or a week-long event. 

“So many people tell us how important MayDay is to them. We want to spend the next four months having conversations about it,” said Zoll.

“What is possible for the future of MayDay?

“The best we can do at this painful moment is look at re-starting things from scratch. 

“What would be a more resilient way to do it?”

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

HOTB has put out a request for proposals (RFP) to bring in a consultant to help engage the community and identify stakeholders. 

Be a part of the conversation by signing up for the email list at www.hotb.org, and pay attention to web site and Facebook updates.

“We want this MayDay 45 – if it’s going to be the last – to be a big one,” said Zoll. 

“Let’s make Sandy’s last MayDay an amazing thing.”

 

How to help HOTB

Give Your Financial 

Support

• Give any amount online or via mail.

• Hire HOBT to bring an arts residency to your school, park, or place of worship.

• Rent the Avalon for events up to 200 people. Beer and wine service available.

• Buy tickets to Puppet Lab and Puppet Cabaret events this spring.

Give Your Time

MayDay relies on 1000 volunteers. Spend just part of your MayDay (or the days before or after) sharing the scores of tasks that need doing. Sign up online.

Give Your Ideas & Input

• Say what’s on your mind. 

• Find more detailed information at hobt.org/imagine

 

HOBT’s decision to reduce its operations comes at a challenging time for midsized arts organizations 

in the Twin Cities. Peer organizations that have been temporarily or permanently impacted by similar challenges 

over the past two years include The Soap Factory, VSA Arts, Red Eye Collaborative, Intermedia Arts, NEMAA/Art-A-Whirl, Art Shanty Projects, Patrick’s Cabaret, and Bedlam Theatre.

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