The Paramount, along with project partner, SCSU, were forced to cancel a week-long residency with esteemed Somali performer Aar Maanta. His residency was to be in St. Cloud from October 14 – 21 and was part of a 30-month Building Bridges grant that is shared in a consortium with Cedar Cultural Center and the University of Minnesota Mankato called Midnimo (Somali word for unity). This half-million-dollar grant to the three consortium members from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) seeks to use the power of the arts to inform attitudes toward cultures that are new to us. Aar Maanta was the third performer to come to St. Cloud as a part of the grant and all was ready to receive him.
Cancelling has had a drastic impact on several grant components. There is the research segment with 24 cohort students that needed to begin their work this fall to meet the requirements of the proposal. There is an education impact, as residency activities had to be canceled at all three area colleges, BGC, and Tech High School, along with a major concert. There is an economic impact as hotel rooms, caterers, venues, performers, technicians, photographer and advertising contracts all had to be canceled as well. The table had been set but the feast was no longer available.
Aar Maanta left his homeland, Somalia, as a result of the war there, a war that also attempted to obliterate a rich tradition of cultural arts. He’s now a citizen of London. His band, Urban Legends, and he had visited Cedar Cultural Center twice before with positive impact and had now gone through the complex process of again securing the proper paperwork to make this trip. All were approved by an American consulate. With no explanation, all the band members received their paperwork but Aar Maanta, who is Muslim, did not. The consulate simply said there was a delay. But the delay went on too long, despite the best efforts of visa/immigration lawyers and Congressional Representative Keith Ellison’s office advocacy, and finally, the consortium had to cancel what was a full month of income for the artist and his band, and three powerful residencies – a week in each site. In St. Cloud alone, a thousand students would have had the opportunity to learn more, perhaps understand in a new way, heighten their curiosity, raise the level of questioning, and to enjoy some powerful music.
Ahmed Abdi, a member of the local steering committee, and Jane Oxton, Director of Education and Outreach at the Paramount, are making visits to several of the scheduled classes. Together they will tell Aar Maanta’s story and share his music, along with the amazing story of Somali cultural arts. They will also share the story of this significant grant and the power of the arts to help us learn about life, each other, and what makes humanity tick. A program in another Building Bridges site is being accessed for our cohort to help reduce the impact the cancellation has had on the research component. While the residency is canceled, creative adaptations will still provide an opportunity to learn and grow and build understanding in our community.
The Paramount and St. Cloud State University are committed to harvesting all we can with what we have, and begin to plan for the next residency in April, hopeful that wisdom and peace prevail.