Local Current Blog

Live music is just one of the ways the arts are enhancing MSP Airport

Steve Roehm. Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR.

When you go to the airport, you expect to check your bags, go through security, and wait around for a couple hours for your flight. If you’re flying out of Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP), though, you’re about to really start seeing some changes in the way travelers experience the airport.

The Arts and Culture program at MSP has been working hard since 2008 to improve the image of the airport and the way it is experienced. The program has some even more exciting plans for the near future—including visual art, cinema, and a continuing live music series.

Robyne Robinson—who’s familiar to Minnesotans as a journalist, gallery owner, jewelry designer, and onetime candidate for lieutenant governor—is currently arts and culture director at MSP. “We have had the music program for several years,” said Robinson, “and in the last two years […] we’ve revamped it in order to really make it diverse so travelers can understand that we have a very diverse community.”

The music series features over “two dozen musicians who play everything from balalaika to sitar to Celtic harp to smooth jazz,” said Robinson. A complete schedule of artists is available at the Airport Foundation’s website.

Recently, the series has begun to attract even bigger-name artists like Steve Roehm of the New Standards, who contacted Robinson and said he was interested in performing at the airport with his group the Neighborhood TrioRobinson said, “When you get an e-mail out of the blue saying, ‘Hey, I like to try new things. Why wouldn’t I want to play the airport?’, it’s a great feeling.”

The Neighborhood Trio will be performing at the main mall in Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. next Wednesday, August 26. “It just shows the strength of the program that’s already in existence, and to have someone of Steve’s caliber just makes it even more exciting,” said Robinson.

The Arts and Culture program also hosts a holiday music series that runs between Thanksgiving and Christmas, featuring notable artists that many people try to see around that time of the year. Robinson said the program has brought in the Minnesota Opera, as well as the Minnesota Dance Theater—who performed pieces from The Nutcracker in the past and will be back this upcoming season. An addition to the holiday series this year will be Joe Chvala’s Flying Foot Forum.

“We’re excited about the progress the program is making: bringing in bigger names, bigger acts, and a lot more diversity to the talent as people get to see when they’re flying through the airport,” said Robinson.

(Beyond that weekly music series, there’s even more live music coming to MSP: the Star Tribune reports that Republic and McNally Smith College of Music are partnering to open a bar and restaurant with a live music stage, with Minnesota musicians playing during “peak travel hours.” The new venue is tentatively expected to begin construction this winter and open in summer 2016.)

The airport’s Arts and Culture program goes well beyond music. Robinson said, “we’re the first U.S. airport to have a cinema,” which features all shorts and documentaries made by Minnesota filmmakers, curated by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul. Robinson also said the Arts and Culture program has just partnered with Twin Cities Public Television, so the program is going to continue to grow.

Arts and Culture at MSP also includes a visual art program. “We’re doing a big call for artists right now because we’re remodeling all of the restrooms at the airport—all 300—and each one has art installations by tile artists throughout Minnesota,” said Robinson.

Robinson said artwork is also featured off the light rail as travelers come in and out of the airport, in the concourse glass cases, and the Concourse C gallery, which is currently displaying Magna Carta to Minnesota: the Rule of Law, sponsored by Thomson Reuters.

“It’s our giveback to the arts community,” said Robinson. “We want people to come to the airport and have an immersive experience. Because there’s more plane traffic, because there’s more time through TSA checks, you’ve got to plan to spend at least two hours even for a domestic flight. So rather than have people eat at our great restaurants and that’s all they do, we want them to be able to go through the airport and see what is happening here.”

Robinson said, “We want them to understand that we want them to be involved in everything that’s going on, that they get to learn more about the state and the people of the state and what we offer and how we live and why it’s important to us to have arts and culture in the airport.

“We want people to know who we are as Minnesotans and why we live here and why it’s important to us and so Arts and Culture is a main component of what our commissioners want here,” Robinson continued. “Our job is to work in tandem with MSP to provide a stellar experience, and so I think in just a short amount of time we are showing artists in the community that we are very serious about showing the best and choosing from our community and not going outside of our community.”

Robinson added, “We have international and world-class artists here that people should know about. I think this is the goal of the foundation and the mission as well. We are not heavily funded, but with what little we have, we’re going to do our best to live up to Minnesota’s ideal of being a DIY state.”

According to Robinson, the Arts and Culture program is working in collaboration with MSP to make big changes in the near future “in terms of grander scale of live music, expanding art through all the terminals,” and much more. Robinson said there are “a lot of things changing, a lot of things happening at the airport. We’re just really excited.”

Sure, traveling can be stressful, but if you’re flying into or out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, your travels are likely to turn into an immersive art experience that’s helping to demonstrate, in Robinson’s words, that Minnesota is really “the star of the upper Midwest.”

Sadie Bell, of Wayzata, is a Journalism + Design major at The New School in New York City.

  • Bryan Strang

    One of the greatest live music experiences I’ve ever had was walking into South Station in Boston and finding one of my favorite bands (NRBQ) playing there for no discernible reason. Of course, I’m not sure everyone else was quite as excited about it.