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When the world gets rough, as it is currently and has been for some time now, it helps to remember that the arts are a source of healing. Artists can offer a balm for bad times, and a blueprint for a better world— even through the grimmest times, whether that be a global pandemic, environmental disaster, or trauma stemming from centuries of racism and violence. Whether you’re venturing out this week, or seeking a virtual option, here are events that offer beauty, hope, and perhaps a smile. 

Scenes from the Mu Tang Clan: Beginning in July, 6 Asian-American playwrights have been meeting monthly as they develop new plays. The group is called the Mu Tang Clan, led by playwright-in-residence Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, whose imaginative plays match her talents as an organizer, idea-generator and community leader. Made up of both emerging and experienced women and nonbinary writers, the cohort uses a peer-to-peer model to learn and grow as artists. Besides Vongsay, the Mu Tang Clan consists of two other Minnesota-based writers: Marlina Gonzalez and Kathryn Haddad. They have been working with La Jolla, California-based writer Keiko Green, Alex Lin, from Saddle River, New Jersey, and Liqing Xu, from Brooklyn, NY. Event will stream live on Facebook at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, (free, donations encouraged here: theatermu.org/donate). More information here.

Josh Winkler, “Pissing on Fire,” color woodcut
Courtesy of the artist
Josh Winkler, “Pissing on Fire,” color woodcut

2021 McKnight Printmaking Fellowship Exhibition: Trees and nature have proven fruitful inspiration for the 2021 McKnight Printmaking Fellows, hosted by Highpoint Center for Printmaking. Josh Winkler, an associate professor of printmaking at Minnesota State University Mankato, reflects on forests around the country that have been destroyed or face great danger, in works that share a personal connection to nature. Even in taking on the most dire environmental disasters, Winkler’s woodcuts hold a sense of wonder and hope. Meanwhile Gaylord Schanilec, founder of the press Midnight Paper Sales, creates ghostlike relief prints in work that also finds inspiration from the natural world. The opening reception takes place 6:30-9 p.m. Friday, January 14 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking (free). The exhibition runs through February 12. On Feb. 11, the artists will join Naturalist Kim Todd for a conversation, from 7-8 p.m. More information here.

Xavier Foley
Photo by Vanessa Briceño
Xavier Foley

“For Justice and Peace” with Xavier Foley: When not performing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, sprightly violinist Eunice Kim is part of a touring duo with double bassist and composer Xavier Foley, whom she met at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The two have performed  different works together around the country, including “For Justice and Peace,” Foley’s concerto marking the 400 years since the first ship bringing enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Virginia. Foley’s composition was co-commissioned in 2019 by Carnegie Hall as part of its 125 Commissions Project, as well as by the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit that supports Black and Latino classical musicians, and the New World Symphony.  Besides “For Justice and Peace,” Foley and Kim will perform Giovanni Bottesini’s Gran Duo Concertante. The program concludes with a solo by Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim in Sonata for Violin and Strings, Kreutzer, by Ludwig van Beethoven. 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14 and Saturday, Jan. 15, 2 p.m. January 16, Ordway Concert Hall ($12-50). More information here. 

Diane album release show: Diane is the new solo project of vocalist and musician Diane Miller, who you might have heard on The Current, where she took over as the host of The Local Show last September. Miller, who hails from Fargo, Minnesota, has been tearing up the Twin Cities as a performer with her hip hop band D Mills & the Thrills, and now is releasing her first solo hip-hop EP release, “Earth to Diane.” Crescent Moon and Big Trouble and MAKR, one of the album producers, will be special guests at the show. Meanwhile Diane’s band features another Minnesota-based album producer, Greg Schutte, along with Dayton Brock and Megan Mahoney. 7th St Entry; Saturday, Jan. 15, doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. ($12-15). More information here

Jearlyn and Jevetta Steele: Dynamic Soul Sisters. Jearlyn and Jevetta Steele have been singing together for a lifetime, ever since they were growing up in Indiana and performing along with their siblings Billy, JD and Fred. The multi-talented Steele Family bring joy to the stage, and for this show, Jearlyn and Jevetta are offering a tonic for these once again grim times with healing and song. 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, The Dakota ($25-35). More information here.

“Unjust Laws”
Photo by Nikki McComb
“Unjust Laws”

“Taken” at the Gordon Parks Gallery: Photographer Nikki McComb has often taken on social issues, particularly those relevant to her North Minneapolis community. In the past, McComb has addressed gun violence, bullying, and slum lords, as part of her “artivist” practice. In “Taken,”a show curated by John Schuerman, the Gordon Parks Gallery features work by McComb that investigates systemic failures of society, through racism, abuse, and violence. It’s brutal stuff, poignantly executed by McComb’s skill. Currently, Gordon Parks Gallery isn’t open to the public normally because of COVID, so the opening reception is your chance to see the show. 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20, artist talk at 7 p.m. (free). Gordon Parks Gallery at Metro State University’s St. Paul Campus. More information here.