Building a Midwest Cultural Capital: Professional Theater in 1960s Minneapolis

February 26, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E. 60th St.
Room 289B

Susannah Engstrom, Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at the University of Chicago

Today, Minneapolis is known as much for its culture, especially its lively theater scene, as for its frigid weather. But how did this mid-sized city, high in the Upper Midwest, become such a vibrant cultural center? This talk will take a look back at the early 1960s, a pivotal moment in Minneapolis's cultural renaissance, when the regional theater movement was in full swing and local leaders began to incorporate the arts into their schemes for urban revitalization. It was at this time that the high profile Guthrie Theater was established amidst the region's amateur, commercial, and educational theater landscape. How did the introduction of this major professional organization affect the region's wider artistic scene? Did local leaders' embrace of such an institution shape the kind of creative capital Minneapolis would become? What impact did an emphasis on professionalism, in particular, have on both theater-makers and audiences in the Twin Cities region? This talk will engage these and other questions in an attempt to contribute to our understanding of how and in what patterns today's creative cities have developed.

Susannah Engstrom is a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at the University of Chicago, writing a dissertation on the professionalization of culture in the 1950s and 60s, and the impact of this transformation on the urban community of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She received a B.A. in Theatre Arts and History from the University of Pennsylvania, served as a Literary Intern at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and worked as a Literary Assistant, Dramaturg, and Grant Writer at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia for three years. She received her M.A. in U.S. History from the University of Chicago in 2008.

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