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A Club with Real Community Outreach: Insight from The Cedar's Rob Simonds

Q & A with Rob Simonds, Executive Director of The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. Simonds is also the co-founder of the record label, Rykodisc

The Cedar Cultural Center (also known as the Cedar) is a highly eclectic music venue located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The venue is known for hosting a wide variety of folk, blues, jazz, indie rock and world artists, as well as films, spoken word performances, dances, and community events. The Cedar is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operated by a small professional staff, with assistance from a large pool of volunteers.

 

CedarDirector
Photo Courtesy of The Cedar Cultural Center Website

1. What is the first thing you like to tell people who haven’t been to your space when they ask what it’s like?

Imagine a comfortable medium-sized venue (capacity around 500) with impeccable sound, excellent unobstructed sight lines, and the intimacy of someone's living room.

2. How does your venue and programming differ from other similar ones?

We provide an informal, club-like atmosphere for over 200 shows per year while filling a non-profit mission of presenting artists from around the world (and down the street). At the same time, we engage in real community outreach, education programs and artist commissions. There are actually very few venues on the planet that do all of that.

3. What are one or two (world music) artists you had in the past couple of years whose live stage performance blew you away?

Oliver Mtukudzi and Bajofondo.

4. If you think of yourself as a curator, how would you describe your personal curatorial vision for the artists that play at your venue? Are there certain things that every artist has to have? Are the certain things that at least one artist every month or two at your venue has to have?

I have not booked here since 2011. But when I was booking, I never really thought of myself as a "curator..." more as the facilitator for bringing great music of many genres to a wide sub-set of potential audiences. The only criteria I ever looked for in artists was what I considered to be a reasonably high threshold of talent. But I've always been very aware that even that criteria is highly subjective, and so I often solicited my staff's opinions before making booking decisions.

5. What is one thing you wish an artist or booking agent would say to you?

"We recognize that you go above and beyond a normal venue when you book one of our artists, by making extra effort to reach out to targeted audiences and by engaging the community with programming beyond a standard concert, and that is valuable to us, too."
6. What is one of the most underrated (world music) recent albums you have heard?
Caravan Palace, "Panic."

7. How has your venue adapted to new technologies in recent years?

We've fully embraced digital and social media in our marketing, including being the first venue in the region to have our own smartphone app.

8. What is one of the most touching things that has happened at your venue recently?

At Fatoumata Diawara's concert here in April, towards the end of the show, she invited a half-dozen audience members on stage to dance with her. Those folks on the stage represented the incredible diversity of the audience that night overall: an incredible mix of folks from ages 4 to 70+, people of all colors, some clearly skilled at dancing while others were just moved by the music to "shake what their momma gave them..." It represented the cultivation of years of hard work to engage different segments of the community, which seemed to finally all come together successfully that night. And, of course, Fatoumata was awesome!

9. What one or two other presenters in our field do you keep an eye on? Why them?

Bill Bragin, because I consider him to be the leading presenter of global music in North America... a tastemaker who's usually a few steps ahead, with enviable resources at his disposal, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
Kerry Clarke, because she has great taste and, largely because of her talent, the Calgary Folk Festival is for me personally the best music festival in North America.
10. What is one thing you have never done at your venue, but hope you can one day?
Present shows on a real outdoor performance space on our patio.

 

The Cedar Cultural Center by visitng their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter.

 

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