Listen: PKG: Patrick's Cabaret Closes (Combs)

MPR’s Marianne Combs profiles Patrick’s Cabaret, a local Minneapolis creative venue that is closing its doors. Since 1986, Patrick’s Cabaret has provided a space for artists to develop new work. The queer-led organization has focused on supporting emerging artists of diverse backgrounds and artists whose work didn’t fit into more traditional molds. Now, with the institution closing, there is concern at what’s being lost and why.


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SPEAKER: Well, this weekend, Patrick's Cabaret will host its last event for more than three decades. The cabaret has been a place where artists of all types, and experience levels could share new work in front of a supportive audience. The closing of the cabaret and other venues is raising concerns about where diverse artists can go to find their voice. Marianne Combs has more in this report.

MARIANNE COMBS: In the spring of 1986, dancer and performance artist Patrick Scully was working on a new project and wanted to get feedback on it. Scully says he didn't have enough material for a whole evening's performance, but he thought maybe other artists would want to share their current projects, too.

PATRICK SCULLY: And so I looked through my Rolodex and invited any friends who potentially had something. They might be writers, musicians, dancers-- didn't really matter.

MARIANNE COMBS: The evening was a hit, and it quickly became clear that Scully's Cabaret was filling a hole in the art scene. As a gay man who created work that celebrated homosexuality, sCULLY says it was important to have a space where artists didn't have to worry about whether they were offending some curatorial power.

PATRICK SCULLY: But I think in some ways, one of the more radical things about Patrick's Cabaret is that it was not just queer. It was open to everybody, that it was a rainbow umbrella that said, anybody who wants to stand underneath this umbrella is welcome to be here.

MARIANNE COMBS: Over the years, the Cabaret moved from a school to Scully's apartment to an old firehouse in Minneapolis. Scully eventually moved on to focus on other projects, but the Cabaret endured. Scott Artley is the current Executive Artistic Director. Under his leadership, the Cabaret focused even more on serving artists of color, artists with disabilities, and transgender artists. But increasingly difficult financial problems forced Artley to make the decision to close. This Sunday, Patrick's Cabaret will be hosting not a funeral, but what Artley calls a "FUNeral."

SCOTT ARTLEY: Doing it this way feels like the best way to honor the history of an organization that's made such an important impact on the Twin Cities performing arts world.

MARIANNE COMBS: Artley says Patrick's Cabaret didn't just give artists a place to perform, it paid them for performing and provided them with training opportunities and other tools to develop their careers.

SCOTT ARTLEY: We often find that our work is relegated to what I call basements and bars, that we have trouble finding legitimate spaces and legitimate platforms to share our work in a way that's honored, visible, and rendered important to the world.


MARIANNE COMBS: Recently, artists gathered for a rehearsal of "Anything But English," a regular cabaret at Patrick's that features new work in different languages. Ojibwe playwright and actor Marissa Carr says she feels lucky to get to work with Patrick's before it officially closes, but she's worried about the future. Carr built up her career working at two venues similar to Patrick's Cabaret-- Intermedia Arts and Bedlam Theater. Carr says her experiences there helped get the attention of larger organizations.

MARISSA CARR: Those were the first spaces where we were able to call ourselves artists and learn that it was OK to call ourselves artists, especially as artists of color, as people from, quote unquote, "Nontraditional Backgrounds."

MARIANNE COMBS: But both Intermedia and Bedlam have closed in the past two years. Now Patrick's is closing, too. Carr worries that there will be less diversity in the art on Twin Cities stages.

MARISSA CARR: My fear is that what will end up happening is that only a very specific kind of art will be supported or only artists from a specific background and training pedigree will be supported because the spaces that we're supporting everyone else will have ceased to exist.

MARIANNE COMBS: For decades, the Twin Cities has enjoyed a reputation for its dynamic and thriving arts scene. Patrick Scully says institutions like the Walker Arts Center and the Guthrie Theater represent the top of the food chain, where spaces like Patrick's Cabaret represent the dirt and worms. If you want the arts ecosystem to be healthy and robust, he says, you need to take care of your topsoil. Covering the arts, I'm Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio News.

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