Minnesota Original


deM atlaS, PaviElle French with the SPCO and the M

Rapper deM Atlas rides the Green Line before his performance at the Palace Theatre. In collaboration with the SPCO, PaviElle French writes her first symphony. The Minnesota Museum of American Art (the M) celebrates what it means to be an American artist.

AIRED: May 19, 2019 | 0:26:46

(jazzy music)

- As a kid I was so afraid of the stage

and so afraid of talking to people

and getting up there in front of the class

for a book report or something. I hated it.

I never thought that my life would revolve around

being in front of people all the time (chuckles).

- [Woman Emcee] Twin Cities,

make some noise for Dem Atlas!

(crowd cheering)

(intense music)

- My name is Dem Atlas.

I make music. I make art. I dance.

I sing. I rap.

I write poetry.

I would describe my music as

an eclectic bunch of things that I like to listen to.

I mean, grunge, alternative, hip-hop,

funk, soul, electronic.

I used to go on this train all the time

when I was living down in Saint Paul.

I'm always gone,

and I'm probably used to just touring by now.

We are always on the move.

So when I'm back home,

it's very hard for me to sit still.

I get really antsy and I go out.

(jazzy music)

I was born in Akron, Ohio and when I was about three,

I moved to North Minneapolis, MN.

I've been here ever since.

♪ Nothin' pacifies.

♪ Can't let life pass me by.

♪ No more cryin'.

♪ No more tears.

♪ No more dyin'.

♪ No more fear.

- Touring all of these places, I realize how beautiful

it is here. Like I love the Twin Cities.

I love being from here. It's a hidden gem.

My earliest memories was listening to Prince.

I was like three or four years old.

And we used to go on road trips a lot.

And I just remember hearing, "Little Red Corvette,"

and "I Would Die For You," and "Purple Rain,"

and "Let's Go Crazy."

Those were some of my earliest memories.

Just digging deeps at the cats that came before me.

So much rich culture here musically.

And it still continues to this day.

(public transportation announcement)

My writing process is pretty simple.

I hear something in my head and I just go with that.

Usually I think I do the best writing

when it's instigated by a strong emotion.

Like how you feel when you've been rejected.

Or anger.

Or a deep sadness. Or even joy.

And that's usually the spark for me.

It's strong emotion.

Mostly stories. Mostly just emotional thoughts.

And sometimes it will just be a collage.

Like a painting. Some of the abstract painters,

like neo-expressionists. You stare at a painting.

You can't - what does it mean? Who knows.

How does it make you feel?

♪ What am I looking for?

♪ In a tavern darker than a cavern. ♪

♪ Why does it never stop?

♪ All the screams and cries from high pointed rooftop. ♪

- I love looking at and studying other artist's work.

Sculptures. I'm particularly fond of paintings.

When I visit museums, I'll study these artist's paintings

and their works and I'll hear a song. I'm moved by them.

It's a quiet restlessness that's going on in my mind.

That moment of reflection when you stare deeply into

a painting and you just feel it and you're just

immersed in it and that's what I aim to create myself.

Seeing this, it's just a reminder.

Yeah, it's crazy that even now, in this space,

I feel very much at home.

(public transportation announcement)

(calm music)

♪ Hey mister music man

♪ Would you play me a song

♪ Help me sing along

- When I don't know where to go I'll go to a dive bar.

Usually by myself.

Sometimes I'll be fortunate enough

to run into people that I know.

Other times, I think it's unfortunate to run

into people that I know (chuckles).

♪ You're the most beautiful girl ♪

♪ I know you hear it all the time ♪

♪ Hear it all of the time.

♪ I don't know what else to say. ♪

♪ As you roll your eyes

♪ Roll your eyes.

- I love this place. Just the history.

You step in here. You can tell it's been lived in.

Even when I'm touring,

I like to find out were the dive bars are.

They have an energy to them.

They're not well put together. They're just themselves.

And you can be yourself as well.

It's not clean. It's not - it's just grimy. It's just real.

Not just dive bars.

I really enjoy being in places with music

or loud music or atmosphere.

People talking, chattering.

That hum of people just together.

I performed at this bar when I was first starting out.

I was on that stage right over there.

And I actually hopped on this bar table

and started rapping and singing.

It was great. It was a legendary night.

♪ The time of our lives

♪ As people we shine

♪ And the sun will never rise again ♪

- I would describe a Dem Atlas show as raw energy,

powerful, passionate, real, authentic.

Just getting lost and then getting found.

Man, before a show, every show, I feel nerves,

the butterflies in your stomach.

And that's how I know that I'm present

and it's just my body's way of knowing that

preparing to do something. I give it everything that I got.

- [Woman Emcee] Twin Cities! Make some noise for Dem Atlas!

(crowd cheering)

- Minnesota, put 'em up, put 'em up!

♪ Who put the bad mouth on me, run from me ♪

♪ I'll be sitting on a corner watching the world go by ♪

♪ And I'm halfway finished with my life sentence ♪

♪ Not looking for repentance,

♪ Just looking for some escapism ♪

♪ 12 o'clock in this realm where everybody at? ♪

- We were at the Palace Theater.

Hometown show's are different. It's nice to play off

of that extra energy and feed off of that.

♪ I don't know what you could say ♪

♪ To make me wanna get up and start my days ♪

♪ Put everything I had into the wrong place ♪

♪ Gave it all away so I gotta walk away ♪

- The last song is called "Gratitude."

I like to close off with that song every night.

Sometimes I feel like throughout some songs,

I perform them a certain way and I put on this face

and this mask, but that song especially is the song

I can take off the mask. And I can just let it all hang out.

♪ Gratitude can't get you nowhere ♪

♪ Now my love is going away, going away ♪

♪ I got an attitude like you ain't seen yeah ♪

♪ Now my love is going away, going away ♪

♪ Yeah

- I like performing because I really feel

like I'm purging something. I'm getting rid of something.

I'm not thinking. I'm just present.

There's no better feeling than people cheering for you.

Especially when you can help other people

face their stuff and have a good time or get lost

in the experience or the moment.

It's really great to be a part of.

And that's what I love about performing.

(crowd cheering)

Feels good to be home don't it?

After a show, I like to go out in the crowd

and just talk to people. I don't like sitting in the

back of a green room for the rest of the night.

I definitely like to interact with people

and feel that love. Peace.

(organ music)

(upbeat music)

- [Christopher Atkins] I always thought about the role of a

curator as being kind of like flashlight.

Of kind of shining a light on an artist's career.

- I just finished my seventh book, "Chineseness".

- Of shining a light on the

- I keep exploring the same aspects of identity and culture.

- Shining a light on things

that we haven't really been aware of before.

- I'm interested in society's expectations.

- Part of my role here is to help be a conduit

for telling stories, but also be a partner in helping

artists tell their stores as well.

(upbeat music)

- The Minnesota Museum of American Art

also known as the M, has a collection 5000 art works.

Everything from studio craft, which includes

jewelry, glass, ceramic, and wood, to fine art.

Of the 5000 art works, many of them are by

Saint Paul's most well known artists.

Artists such as Paul Manchip, Cameron Booth,

Clara Mairs and Francis Cranmar Greenman.

- Paul Manship went to school at our forerunner institution

and really made a name for himself as perhaps the leading

American sculptor of the early 20th century.

Cameron Booth led the Saint Paul School of Art.

He was also a very renowned painter, interested in the

sight s and sounds of Minnesota.

But also developing the new tenants of abstraction.

Right, some of them are sketches or...

- Clara Mairs was a painter, a printmaker,

and a decorative artist. She was a student at the

Saint Paul School of Art. Later she taught there.

She began as a naturalist painter,

but she moved to modernism. Her forms were flat

and she used line and color very expressively.

One of Clara Mairs friends was Francis Cranmar Greenman.

Very important portraitist. Her portraits had a lot

of vigor and dynamism and she did come to the conclusion

that what she really liked was to paint the worldly-wise,

as she put it. Or the sophisticated.

- [Christopher Atkins] The M's known for collecting works by

national artists such as Juan Chavez, Liat Yosefer,

Helen Lee, but we're also known for supporting and

collecting work by local artists such as

Stuart Nielsen and Hazel Belvo.

- Nice painting

- Yeah. We have a few of these in the collection.

- Of hers?

- Of Joan Brown's, yeah.

- Oh.

Studio work, I basically face a blank piece of paper

or a blank wall and you have to invent a problem

and then come up with a solution.

- It's just a killer piece.

- Yeah. I think that the brush work is amazing.

And this green patch..

My work has generally been abstract. I'm very interested

in the formal language of painting.

Line, shape, color, space, texture.

Even though it's two dimensions and you've got

red, yellow, and blue to work with

I think the possibilities are infinite.

- George took me to see this tree in 1961

and ever since then I've been drawing it, painting it.

The gifts to the tree are tobacco and vermilion.

- Your work is represented in this piece too, right?

- Yes. Frank, Big Bear, incorporated that in his work.

- [Christopher Atkins] Hazel has a lot of stories to tell.

Not just about her work but about other artists

who live here in this state.

And of the work of here husband, George Morrison.

- [Hazel] When people knew George was working

and would like this, sometimes he would get these

unusual shaped packages in the mail that people

would be traveling all around the world and send him wood.

- The M works with artists in many ways.

Everything from collecting their artwork, to working on

brand new commissions.

Artists like Xavier Tavera, we commissioned to do

a brand new series of photographs.

- Since I arrived to this county in '96,

I almost immediately turned my lens and my camera

to the Latino community that is here.

And probably shed some light onto their stories.

More than a photographer, I think I am a story teller.

And with those images, I try to tell the stories that

are important for the Latino community and for me too.

- [Christopher Atkins] As a museum for

American Art in the 21st century, we're constantly asking

ourselves what does each of those words mean.

What is a museum? What is American Art?

What is a museum of American Art?

It gives us a lot of latitude to scrutinize

what we are doing. It also gives us a chance to invite

other people to help us answer those questions.

One of the first exhibitions that I worked on here at the M

was called "American Art. It's Complicated."

Our guest curators, including Tina Tevara

thought very carefully about what are the complications

of American identity, American history,

and American landscape.

- I wanted to combine artists that I felt were not

receiving sufficient attention to their art work.

Some of them spoke about their own communities,

like Vincent Valdez was talking about the lynchings of

Latinos in Texas in the United States.

But some of them even crossed boundaries to talk

about someone else's community.

Which,these are stores that are often not heard and unknown.

- This was a Chinese settlement, west of Sacramento.

- Wing Young Huie is a photographer and activist

who has thought very long and carefully

about what it means to be an American artist.

- I have photographed thousands of strangers

and often get their story. And they say, "Wow you should

meet Ping Lee. He's like the unofficial mayor."

- Is that right? And this is the classroom where he

went to school?

- And the exact same chair that he sat in as a kid.

-_ Wow.

- [Wing Young Huuie] So the questions that I explore are,

When is identity personal? Cultural? Political?

When is it authentic? When is it appreciated?

You add "ness" to a noun,

it changes it into an abstract noun.

That is how I think about identity.

- [Christopher Atkins] I'm excited for this museum that is

on the one hand is very, very old and the other hand

brand spanking new. And that's a very unique opportunity

for a museum to have. Because we have so many people who

know us, who have been fans of the museum for so long,

including artworks that are in the collection.

And there's a whole brand new audience out there that hasn't

met us before. That doesn't know the work that we're doing.

I'm excited for the collection to grow

and to be more representative of the diverse communities

of America and I'm excited for this to be a platform

for all kinds of topics as they relate to telling stories

of American artists and who we are as Americans.

(reflective music)

- Home is the life that influenced me.

Home is all the places that made me who I am.

Home is Rondo.

We are in the heart of Rondo.

And this is where I'm from.

The Rondo Neighborhood was the first and original

black neighborhood of Saint Paul.

It's something to be said how these neighborhoods

still stand no matter how many times it has been gentrified

or people who have come through

and destroyed our neighborhoods.

We have not gone anywhere.

This is the house. This is where my mother grew up.

This is my grandmother's house.

Everything I learned about womanhood and life,

happened on this porch.

I can still see my grandmother open the door and tell people

to get off of her grass. That's why I'm not even

standing on the grass right now.

She would open that door and be that grandma. (chuckling)

Rondo is culture of people.

It's alive through my art. It's alive through me.

It's alive through anybody who's from here.

I am writing a symphony for my mother and to honor Rondo.

And it's about home and what home means to us.

It encompasses Rondo through what my Mom was,

because so much of her is rooted in that neighborhood,

and so much of her is a part of that.

And so it's all one and the same to me.

- How are you?

- I'm good how are you?

- Good.

Your mom was one of the most beautiful people

that I have met. Just everything about your Mom

makes me light. She was just really, really modest

and humble with all of the talents and skills that she had.

The fact that she was a gardener, she was a musical genius.


- And that voice, oh my gosh!

- That was one of the most distinct things about her.

That's one thing that I can't ever forget. Is the tone.

- Yeah.

- It was just a sweet tone. It was calming and it was

just musical. That's what I really remember the most.

That and her eyes. Yeah.

- And you got 'em both.


- You definitely got 'em both.

- Thank you.

I've written a symphony. It's called "A Requiem For Zula."

I will be presenting this in collaboration with the

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

And also the American Composer Forum.

This will be my first time performing on this stage

and I think the coolest thing of all

is that it's my own music.

How are you?

- Good to see you!

- How are you doing?

- Oh my gosh I'm good.

- Can I introduce you to PaviElle, friend.

- Hi!

- Nice to meet you. What a pleasure.

- Nice to meet you.

- I'm James.

- Nice to meet you.

Thank you.

- [Woman Performer] We're excited to hear your piece.

- Thank you for being willing. This is new territory

for me so I really appreciate being able to do this

with you and embark on this journey.

- And it helps us too. It's exciting.

- Most of us moved here, not growing up here.

And you grew up here. And a lot of people didn't even

know about what had happened in the Rondo Neighborhood.

- Yeah Rondo and everything. My mom would love you all.

And this would make her so proud. And I just think - yeah.

This is what we are supposed to be doing.

I think it's kismet and I think this is meant to be.

- [Woman Performer] And it's about time.

- Yeah. And it's about time. You can say that again sis.


(orchestra warming up)

- PaviElle actually came to us and said "I'd love to work

with you and I'd love to be at the Ordway."

And we were really inspired by her story and just felt

that there was real excitement and magnetism in what

she had to say.

♪ Oh I miss you Mama. Ooo - yeah. ♪

- [PaviElle] I'm looking at it like

this PaviElle does classical.


- [PaviElle] This is PaviElle's Messiah.

This is a real kid from the block

that gets to tell her story.

Look how beautiful that is.

It's like, usually you see something like it says,

Amadeus Mozart. It says PaviElle French. That's a trip.


- You all totally get it. This is such a dream.

It's like having a second memorial for my mom again.

But it's like this time on my terms. And it's happy.

♪ I'm with you, always remember. ♪

♪ Into the truth just surrender. ♪

♪ For I had to birth a new life. ♪

- [PaviElle] This piece it is bigger than me breaking

a glass ceiling and getting into the classical world.

I think it's also a testament to how you can

deal with trauma and stay on your feet.

♪ Feelings neglected

♪ And the healing accepted.

- [PaviElle] Everyone has that one person that loved

on them in a way that broke through.

And you lose that person. People understand,

whether it's death or that person is just gone.

People understand that. And that's what this is about.

♪ Mama

♪ Go into the light.

♪ Go into the light.

♪ Go into the light.

- [PaviElle] Mom found out that she got cancer

in September 2009. And I stayed right with her

to her last day. After that, I felt like I didn't really

have a life to live anymore. And I didn't really want to.

And I found myself through these past eight years,

it has taken me this long to come back to the person

that I once knew.


- Hey.

- Hi.

- How are you?

- Good.

- How are you?

- We haven't been here since Mom's memorial.

That was the last time. We sat right up in those front pews.

- Yep.

- Mom loved us so much.

- We were her life.

- She would tell me all the time. You can do anything you

want in this world. Because that is the truth.

- And we're livin' it.

- And we're livin' it. And she livin'.

She livin' through us.

- Oh yeah.

- She still here.

(orchestra tuning)

- [PaviElle] We are at the Ordway and it is opening night

for my symphony, "A Requiem for Zula."

I just hope that tonight honors my Mom in a way

where people really conjure her spirit and think about her.

And keep her memory alive.

(audience clapping)

- [PaviElle] I'm excited. Beyond. But there's that

one missing link. I'm been kind of sad that she won't

be there. Because I keep thinking she should be in the

front row. That's the trip of it all. Everything is right.

Except for that one thing.

♪ It seems.

♪ We've come to the end.

♪ It's been truly bitter sweet. ♪

♪ My friends.

♪ But I'm blessed.

♪ To honor this woman.

♪ To whom so much she meant.

- [PaviElle] That's the point of why I'm doing this piece.

Is to give the lessons that my mom gave me.

The lessons that life taught me. Rondo taught me.

It's to give that back in way

in which that can help heal others.

♪ Save a place for me

♪ When I get there

♪ When I get free

♪ Yeah

♪ You're the first I want to see ♪

- I believe in that alchemy stuff. I believe in that.

Taking your pain and doing something positive with it.

I'm not going to let it hurt me.

♪ Oh music was your heart

♪ So I wrote you a symphony

♪ This one's for...

(happy crying)

♪ Z

(orchestral music)

(audience clapping)

(peaceful orchestral music)

(audience cheering)

This program is made possible by

The state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

and the citizens of Minnesota.


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