Articles by Levi Weinhagen

  • Article

    Two guys walk into a bar – and what that means for cultural sharing

    May 25, 2016 by Levi Weinhagen

    Levi Weinhagen's Mobile Comedy Suitcase from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

    Images courtesy Levi Weinhagen, Mobile Comedy Suitcase project.

    Art making is the process of making something out of nothing.

    For an improviser and theater maker like myself, it’s rare that the something I make isn’t temporary and experiential. I love the idea that most of the art I’m a part of making only exists in the moment with my collaborators whether they be fellow artists, audience members or participants in other ways. The central challenge, though, for most of the kind of work I make is it always asks that people come to me.

    My latest art project, the Mobile Comedy Suitcase, created with support from a Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul grant, is a way for me to keep the temporal and experiential nature of my work while going to where the people are rather than asking them to find me. Here’s a quick break down of the project. The Mobile Comedy Suitcase is a four and a half-foot by two and a half-foot stage built on a bike trailer. When being pulled, the pieces look like a suitcase strapped to a bike trailer. When assembled, the suitcases pieces create steps and support for the stage. There’s a microphone in a stand, an amplifier, a chalkboard sign and a brick wall backdrop. It all amounts to a traveling comedy club.

    One of the primary goals I have with this project is to facilitate cultural sharing. I know that comedy is a way of connecting through shared ideas and experiences, but it’s also a tool for letting those outside of a culture in and explaining the core elements of a culture. That can sound and feel very academic, breaking down comedy as an anthropological system for culture sharing. Luckily, the first public usage of the Mobile Comedy Suitcase resulted in very tangible examples of this.

  • Article

    Art, food and community at Little Mekong Night Market

    August 14, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    Art, food and community at Little Mekong Night Market

    Earlier this month, a few blocks off of University Avenue in St. Paul were transformed into an Asian-inspired night market. It’s called the Little Mekong Night Market. It’s a Knight Green Line Challenge winner and it’s part of the Asian Economic Development Association’s strategy to harness the creative power of the community to grow the local economy and deepen neighborhood connections.

    In February of 2012, the Asian Economic Development Association launched the Little Mekong Asian Business and Cultural District. It’s been great to watch over the past few years as the Little Mekong initiative has rolled out a bunch of different art and culture events and activities to revitalize the area, increase access to and awareness of Southeast Asian art being made in St. Paul and promote small businesses along University Avenue in Frogtown. Last year, they held their first Little Mekong Night Market and it was successful enough that they had to expand the size and location of this year’s night market. I was excited to pay a visit.

    The Night Market started at 6 p.m. and by the time I arrived there with my family an hour and a half later it was already packed with people. One of the things this event highlights is that this part of St. Paul isn’t usually crowded with throngs of people, but it should be. This year’s Little Mekong Night Market spilled a block and a half down Western Avenue on either side of University Avenue. Walk less than a block either way down University from Western and you’ll find great food and interesting local crafts and art. One of the best things about the Night Market is that it doesn’t bring in food and vendors from far away but rather highlights all the good things that are barely hidden from view, just waiting to be enjoyed.

  • Article

    Paul Bunyan, Jesse Ventura and Indonesian shadow puppets meet in new St. Paul production

    August 11, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    Imagine a stage of Indonesian shadow puppets. Now throw in Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Jesse Ventura and Paul Bunyan.  “Shadow Visitors” promises to be a true Minnesota adventure, when Sumunar, the Indonesian cultural group, and Green T Productions debut the production in September.

    Sumunar was looking for a way to draw Minnesota audiences into the traditional shadow puppetry when it applied for and won a Knight Arts Challenge grant, said the group’s Executive Director Mary Shamrock.

    “People come and watch with interest but a lot of the elements don’t really come across here. So, the idea was to do this but have a Minnesota story, with some Indonesian characters to still create that beginning and ending, but then let’s have a bunch of Minnesota characters, too,” said Shamrock

    The story is a true marriage of Indonesian story traditions of princesses and Minnesotan traditions of local government and pop culture. “It will start in Indonesia with a couple of Indonesian princesses being sent out to the forest to meditate so that they can become powerful. Some sort of storm comes up and they get sucked up into the air and they come down in Minnesota. They land at Lake Itasca and there’s the Mississippi and someone tells them they need to go down to St. Paul. There’s a wonderful dialogue between Mark Dayton and Jesse Ventura. And Paul Bunyan gets involved and Babe the Blue Ox and various Minnesota kinds of characters,” said Shamrock.

  • Article

    Young composers take stage at NextNotes High School Composition Awards

    July 9, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    The Twin Cities-based American Composer’s Forum holds a Knight Arts-funded annual competition to find the best high school composers, offer them mentoring and a scholarship, as well as the chance to perform their work onstage. Here, St. Paul arts blogger Levi Weinhagen writes about the 2015 winners’ performance.

    Because the term “songwriter” has been so commonly used when talking about popular and current music, and because there seems to be this insatiable human desire to create hierarchies of art and artists, the word composer often implies someone who writes in the style of European classical music. But composer, in its purest definition, means a person who creates music. So I was really pleased to see that the American Composer Forum’s NextNotes High School Composition Awards really was open to music makers from any and all backgrounds.

    The diversity of what it means to be a composer is well represented by the six young winners of the 2015 NextNotes awards.



  • Article

    Seeing art in a steam plant’s plume

    May 8, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    Video projection on a steam cloud.

    Four St. Paul artists are coming together to create public art with organizations that have a positive environmental impact. Their 2014 Knight Arts Challenge award winning Plume Project is made up of three distinctive components conceived of individually but created with shared resources, connections and equipment.

    And all area created for the canvas created by District Energy’s plume.

    The Plume Project started after a group of artists from the Saint Paul Collaboratory toured the District Energy steam plant. Andrea Steudel had the idea of working creatively with the plume in some sort of projected way. So she pulled together an Avengers-style crew of artists she knew might have different testable ideas. Steudel, Aaron Dysart, Emily Stover and Asia Ward got together over a campfire, and put on a pot of water so they could experiment with the steam. Slowly a multi-faceted, large-scale idea emerged.

  • Article

    Grammy Camp changes focus to build young girls’ skills in music production

    May 17, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    What started as the next iteration of Grammy Camp St. Paul, an ongoing program focused on teaching music-making to young people, has morphed into a new program called Women in Music and Audio weekend Targeting teenage girls ages 13-18, this 2014 Knight Arts Challenge Award-winning project is a collaboration between McNally Smith College of Music and the Grammy Foundation. Its goal is to bridge a noticeable gap in the music industry: women working on the technological side of music production. Edie_Rae When Grammy Camp suggested the project to McNally Smith’s Chris Osgood, he jumped at the prospect. “The idea of getting something from the Grammy Foundation that we could help coordinate that would move the needle in terms of getting women into the technological part of the music business was exciting,” Osgood, vice president of organizational development, said. The Women in Music and Audio weekend will be shorter than regular Grammy Camps, which are typically seven to nine days and are non-residential programs. The Grammy Foundation has done technology-focused weekend programs in the past, but this will be the first one that focuses entirely on girls and women aspiring to work in the music industry. Locally, several successful and influential women in the music industry are collaborating on plans for this project, and this cohort makes it clear why St. Paul is a great place to pilot a program like this.

  • Article

    St. Paul Food Opera looks to heighten the dining experience

    April 30, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    One of the Asparagus Compositions. Photo by Melissa Rivard.

    In 2006, composer and audio designer Ben Houge was living in Shanghai and working on audio for a video game project for Ubisoft when he had dinner at a restaurant called Jade on 36. The dining experience, coupled with how immersed Houge was in his audio work, made him think about applying some of the same audio concepts to a meal. “It made me realize that the types of structures I’m putting together for this video game could apply to any kind of unpredictable event.” he said.

    Houge collaborated with a chef in 2010 on a workshop where they created music based on the flavors, textures and experiences of a meal. The music from that workshop eventually informed a collaboration with Boston-based chef Jason Bond for their 2012 project, Food Opera: Four Asparagus Compositions.

    Now, Ben Houge is collaborating with St. Paul’s Zeitgeist, a quartet focused on new music, to create the Saint Paul Food Opera –a project that won a grant from the Knight Foundation during the first Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul. Zeitgeist and Houge will seek out five St. Paul chefs with whom they’ll create five musical works that partner with a dish. In the Spring of 2016, they will present three evenings of musical works partnered with dishes at Studio Z in downtown St. Paul.

    The relationships between food and music have obvious connections, but there are also a lot of subtle similarities, Houge said,

  • Article

    Using puppets to break down barriers between people and languages

    April 28, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    Courtesy of Mu Performing Arts.

    Mu Performing Arts has become a national leader in developing and supporting the work of Asian-American playwrights, actors and musicians. Mu has also become a hub of education, community outreach, and a strong voice advocating for social justice. As Mu gets ready to start work on its Knight Arts Challenge-winning project, “Speaking Out: Our Immigration Journey Through Puppetry, Artistic Director Randy Reyes took some time away from directing Mu’s production of “Twelfth Night” to share thoughts on making shows, representing a community and building partnerships.

    Where are you with the project timeline for “Speaking Out: Our Immigration Journey Through Puppetry”?

    Right now, we’re making contacts with community partners and working on finding matching funds. The funding will really determine how soon we can start the project. We hope that by the end of the summer we can start the first series of workshops from which the play will be made.

  • Article

    Artist Michael Bahl combines science and imagination to startling effect

    April 1, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    Artist Michael Bahl combines science and imagination to startling effect

    Michael Bahl at work.

    Not many artists are called unique and actually deserve it. But sculptor and Paleo-osteological interpreter Michael Bahl makes work that is truly unlike anything else in the art world. Bahl’s newest project, thanks in part to a Knight Arts Challenge grant, will be a bronze skeleton of a large imaginary mammal with a ribcage that functions as a bike rack. But it all started with a cow pelvis.

    Ask Bahl how he got into this work and he’ll tell you, “When I was a kid I always wanted a dinosaur skeleton.” As an adult he found himself with access to a cattle ranch bone yard in Florida where a cow pelvis caught his eye. He ultimately collected 17 large boxes of bones. “We shipped them back to Minnesota, labeled as old wooden toys,” Bahl said. “Then I learned how to clean bones using trial and error methods. All of my work is essentially trial and error.” The cleaning and preparing of bones ended up being a surprisingly difficult and messy task, but after developing a system, Bahl was able to start making creatures of his own.

  • Article

    St. Paul: Send in your best ideas for the Knight Arts Challenge

    April 20, 2015 by Levi Weinhagen

    St. Paul: Send in your best ideas for the Knight Arts Challenge

    The door is (officially) wide open St. Paul: Starting today, you can send in your best ideas for the arts for a chance at funding through the Knight Arts Challenge.

    The deadline is May 18th, the application available here at, and there are just three rules to follow:   

    1. The project must be about art.
    2. It must take place in or benefit St. Paul
    3. You must find additional funding to match the Knight Foundation grant.

    If your idea falls within these three rules, you’re eligible. And that means everyone from private companies to nonprofit organizations and individuals.