"Midwest?" Panel at Walker Art Center
Dean Thomas Fisher holding court during the "Midwest?" panel at the Walker
Minnesotans show state pride in a curious way. We don’t have the "We're great and to hell with what you think!" attitude of Texans, nor do we have Maryland-ers' sense of historical importance. Heck, every other state’s citizens do seem to express a little pride now and then.
But Minnesotans? We are a self-conscious and defensive bunch preoccupied not with what we think of ourselves but with what other people think of us.
That seemed to be the central theme of last Thursday's "Midwest?" panel at the Walker, a conversation sparked by Eric Dayton of Askov Finlayson, creator of those "North" hats. Under the auspices of discussing a new regional identity to replace our status within the overly broad "Midwest," the conversation between Colle McVoy's CEO, Fairbault's CMO, a Walker curator, and a U of M design dean picked at threads of larger conversations: Should we promote our state or focus on the Twin Cities? Are we trying to get people to move here for jobs, or distinguish ourselves on an international cultural scale? Should we just rebrand "the Midwest?" How do we get other people to listen/care about this discussion?
When I asked a well-traveled friend for his thoughts on Minnesotans, his heartbreaking response cut right to the center of the issue: "Honestly, I don't think about Minnesota very often."
Nor does he think about Indiana, probably, or New Mexico, unless he’s in the middle of a Breaking Bad marathon. Why would he? Perceptions of a state in a larger national context form slowly, shaped over years by that state’s cultural exports informing national opinion. It shifts with generations according to those references: Right now, people judge our state by The Hold Steady, Prince, Red Wing Boots, and those complicated Coen Brothers. Also: It’s cold.
That friend of mine does have some [accurate?] perceptions of the identities of our Twin Cities. Specifically, he knows that the Twin Cities is in line with other creative class metropolises like Austin, Denver, and Portland. And here lies a fracture in our discussion. Branding our region is one thing—and wouldn't that process entail branching out to other "North" states, like (cough) Wisconsin?—branding the Twin Cities is another. And might that be easier?
As a fellow audience member and millennial voiced that night, "I know what it says about me if I move to San Francisco. What does it say about me if I live in Minneapolis?" A problem symptomatic of a millennial, I know, but I think it's a fair question. We as citizens of these Cities can’t be closed off to the global world if we want our creative community to flourish, and I do. But in order to position ourselves loudly, I think we need to focus on living fully in the Cities before we think about branding them, or branding the region for that matter. How we live here and what we create define us. It's not about "the conversation" or even the marketing. It's about action.
Here is my personal action plan. I need to “re-brand” the way I talk about living here to outsiders. No more bitching about cold weather. (Thanks for the tip, Dean Thomas Fisher). Collaborate more with fellow creatives. Buy local. Give local. Participate in this city, even when (especially when) it's cold out. Stop treating my time spent in East Coast cities as some kind of pedigree. Be open to new people. Discover who is living here and what they’re about. And chill out about what people think of me as a Minnesotan.
They probably don't think of it at all. Yet.
Erin Kincheloe is originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin.