By now it’s old news that Patrick’s Cabaret, one of the most important local venues and organizations for artists on the fringe of performance art, is leaving its firehouse homestead on Minnehaha Avenue in Longfellow. The building Patrick’s was housed in was purchased by new owners, and the option to stay wasn’t on the table. The Cabaret is leaving their home, with no plans to immediately root and nest in a new space. This has many loyal artists and audience members feeling pessimistic as they wonder what this means for the future of this radical establishment. Upon hearing the news however, my eternal optimism and unflinching belief in queer and radical art bubbled right up. I too wondered “what’s next?”, and instead of allowing my mind to think the worst or fear for a rootless future, I decided to go straight to Executive Artistic Director Scott Artley and have a conversation about what we had to look forward to for Patrick’s Cabaret.
Part of the reason I was a little bit excited to hear of the Cabaret’s new journey is because change and innovation has usually worked out exceedingly well for the company. The Cabaret was started in 1986 by Patrick Scully, a brilliant artist who attracted tons of like-minded support from the arts community and his queer kindred alike.
Many default to assuming the cabaret has always been led by one man, in one space, with one mission. Scully and the Cabaret alike have this mythology built around them that was never the intention of either. Scully wanted to provide a home and an opportunity for artists who didn’t fit in elsewhere or had even been banned by other organizations to come together and make their weird, quirky, or shocking work together, and to provide the public with groundbreaking art they couldn’t find elsewhere. Scully and his colleagues worked diligently to build the community around these cabarets and ended up creating not only some of the best art the world has ever seen, but a community so vibrant and fired up for this art that it took on a life of its own.
As such, Scully felt his work with the Cabaret was complete, and stepped down as Artistic Director in 2008 to focus on other outlets. Many wondered then about the fate of Patrick’s Cabaret, but the Cabaret continued to do what it was designed to do — provide innovative and provocative art, and nurture a passionate community of artists and audiences who live for such an outlet. Current Executive Artistic Director Scott Artley has overseen the past few iterations of the organization, and he along with the rest of the company, feel confident, if thoughtful, moving forward.
Moving forward with thoughtfulness as well as confidence does mean that the organization is slowing down over the summer. The Cabaret had big plans, many of which will still be executed, but many of which will be pared down as they wind down and move out of the space that has been their home for so long.
“We will be spending the summer doing the hard work of preparing for our next steps,” Artley says. This largely means taking some time to do some community based research on how Patrick’s can best serve the community its meant to serve moving forward. Patrick’s has a lot of resources at its disposal, and Artley is very interested in figuring out how to best align those resources with what their artists will need in the Cabaret’s new form. I’m so excited to see what the company discovers in this time, and how it effects the upcoming seasons.
Much has been reported about how the company plans on using its more nomadic identity once fall hits, but when asked point blank, Artley assured me that most people’s fears can be assuaged. Patrick’s Cabaret’s core Cabaret program WILL continue, very similarly to how it has in the past, with regular, often themed cabarets that showcase the brightest, “fringiest,” and often queerest artists in the Twin Cities.
“Our cabaret program is really the cornerstone of what we do” he told me. “It’s our most public opportunity to demonstrate the kind of work that we’d like to see out in the world.”
Artley, the board, and the core artists involved in the Cabaret are beyond passionate about this program, and the number one thing those of us who love those cabarets have to look forward to IS continued programming that we hope for. The Cabaret focuses on artists working from the margins, and that includes both artists with social disadvantages and artistic styles or innovations that haven’t been embraced by mainstream movements. That fringe work is vital to our artistic community overall and is what’s made Patrick’s the entity that it is. I am ecstatic to see what this thoughtful retooling of the Cabaret’s overall function looks like in real time with the standard cabaret program continuing to evolve.
In addition the Cabaret programming we all know and love, Artley has long been planning to put into motion plans for a queer performance arts festival, and the new structure of the organization hasn’t altered the plan to move forward with this objective. It has affected how the potential festival will be implemented, and Artley feels this project and area is ripe with opportunities to still explore and experiment as he begins to build the infrastructure around it. He also feels the company is in the right moment to do that as infrastructure overall changes for the organization.
Patrick’s Cabaret has a huge stake in the community it exists in, and has a lot of resources and knowledge at it’s disposal that a lot of up and coming queer or otherwise fringe artists do not, or maybe do but don’t know how to access. As such, a training and education program for performance artists is something that’s been on the Cabaret’s mind for awhile, and while specifics of a Patrick’s Cabaret education and training program are tentative, they are in the works, and it’s definitely something for their community to get excited about. Not only will the company’s commitment to the cabaret program flourish, and not only will the company’s dedication to new projects such as a queer arts festival take hold, but they company’s passion for artists and meeting their needs will be serviced in completely new, vehemently crucial ways.
“When the Cabaret started, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for artists on the margins to perform, and now there are lots of places where this work can thrive.” Artley explains. “I think the challenge for artists now is knowing how to navigate those institutions that do support that work, as well as those who do place barriers in the way of it.”
Patrick’s Cabaret is undoubtedly about the cutting-edge, truly rare artistic work they do, but Patrick’s Cabaret is also undeniably about the community that forms around such art. The vibe at a show at Patrick’s is so different from elsewhere. The audience is truly on fire for the work they’re about to see. The company’s reputation as an experimental arts space means that even performances that don’t go over as well or aren’t what the audience expected are still met with compassion and excitement to see where the artist goes next. It’s a welcoming, vibrant space, and it’s for that reason that Patrick’s is where I chose to make my own return to the stage earlier this year.
It is easy to conflate having a space for that community to meet every week with the concept of community itself, and my biggest question going into this interview was “How do you plan to nurture and grow this community without a home base?” Since Artley took over Artistic Direction at the Cabaret, he’s really excelled at making the environment stay positive amidst ongoing changes and the bombshell about the venue brewing. I have seen Artley’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment firsthand, and I knew the cabaret was in good hands in regards to this, but I still had my concerns about what the loss of a permanent place would mean for a community used to gathering in one spot. Artley assured me that Patrick’s Cabaret is still one thousand percent invested in creating community in this way.
“Place and space are two different concepts, and I’m really into the idea of building spaces as places.” Artley says.
This answer may not seem very tangible to those not directly involved in art or who don’t feel they belong to a community, but the promise of holding space is essentially the Cabaret’s way of saying you belong “here”, wherever “here” happens to be.
In fact, Artley goes on to say “It’s a challenge and an opportunity, because those are the same thing, to build a sense of community in any place we’re in.” When prodded further, he explains “My approach to curating and hosting work is about creating the sense of family and encouragement and safety, but also building that as a platform that supports risk-taking in really exciting ways. Every event that I host, I try to make it feel like a dinner party.”
Artley has even considered playing with dinner parties as an actual format, particularly for the Calof Series which has always been one of the Cabaret’s more intimate and informal events. Dinner parties are not the only experimental and informal event Artley is considering incorporating though.
“I’m interested in taking worlds where there’s already community, and using the expertise and excitement that we have, and using that to augment that, and let the community that we’re in amplify our work too.”
By continuing with community-based research and constant outreach to its existing community, those invested in Patrick’s Cabaret will know where to find their community and in that, their place as the organization does move forward in it’s space-making. As Artley was quick to remind me, community has always existed, long before there were spaces for it, and Patrick’s Cabaret itself didn’t have a home when it started. In many ways this conversation about new beginnings brought a lot of nostalgia for how the Cabaret (and many queer spaces) used to meet, and while the world grows and evolves there’s still a dire need for that sense of community that traditionally has not centered around one venue.
The Twin Cities arts community is being hit pretty hard right now, and like with most things, this disproportionally displaces LGBTQQIAP+ artists, artists of color, and artists who’s work is seen as “too edgy”. Artley muses that Minneapolis’ ability to succeed and bounce back in difficult economic times is actually hurting a lot of the element that makes Minneapolis what it is. In short, sweeping gentrification and development pursuits are pushing even our most visible artists to the literal fringes of the city, even as the city widely accepts and encourages their artistry.
As Artley also correctly points out however, the Minneapolis arts scene at one point did feel like we were hitting critical mass, and that a tipping point was overdue. Many of us, myself included, fear that tipping point is only starting though, as news of Patrick’s losing it’s venue was a wake-up call for many arts supporters that may have come too late. It’s easy to look at the sea of venue or organization closures and feel frustrated and hopeless about the direction the city is headed. However, I personally feel even as my own theatre company feels the effect of this change in demographics that wide swaths of bad luck or even calculated hits to arts communities do push those who are truly brilliant to a breaking point where they learn to succeed and innovate in spite of these trying times.
Artley reminds me in our conversation that “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and that some of the best artwork the world has ever known has come from artists forced to create with nothing but their creativity.
“As an artist doing my own work, all of my favorite, impactful, most fulfilling creative activities are those where I’m begging, borrowing, stealing, where I’m not given a nice budget and the comfort of knowing how things will turn out. Those are the moments that are the most exciting” he says.
Patrick’s Cabaret has always kept things simple, and has maintained a style of performance that can be done anywhere and everywhere. When Scully started this—well, movement, really, there was nowhere concrete for artists like himself to perform. Eventually they picked up enough of a cult following that they were practically gifted a wonderful space that so many queer and radical artists have come to love and thrive in. In addition to believing that sudden news, bad luck, or hard times in an arts community can push it’s artists to create their best work ever, I would also like to hypothesize that such changes and shake-ups are needed for many creatives to reach their full potential. “We really need to focus on what impacts people? How do I make the people around me live a richer life? And that can happen in lots of ways, but if we keep that as the main goal in every moment, I think it’s just gonna make our work better, and it almost doesn’t need to look any particular way as long as we’re focusing on impacting people.” Artley concludes.
As Scott Artley and I discussed the changes in the local art community as well as Patrick’s Cabaret’s plans to continue their necessary cabaret program, instill some core queer art-centric programming, and elevate the next generation of would-be Patrick Scully’s, I became even more confident that this change is only one more fresh start for this enduring company. Patrick’s Cabaret isn’t going anywhere — they’re going everywhere.