Our home in the Avalon Theater

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre is launching an effort to set long-term strategic goals that will be used to determine how HOBT can best use its home in the Avalon Theater as an asset to further HOBT’s mission to bring people together for the common good.

All updates regarding the Avalon Theater will be posted on this page. Click the links below to read past entries.

August 7, 2017 Update
June 12, 2017 Update

August 7, 2017: Sarah Bowman Trust

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) recently received a $275,000 gift from the Sarah Bowman Trust. Sarah Bowman was a longtime supporter of HOBT and for several years was part of the “Sun Flotilla” of red canoes that bring the Sun Puppet across Powderhorn Lake at the climax of HOBT’s annual MayDay Ceremony. Sarah passed away suddenly in an accident in 2016, and her death rattled this community. HOBT was unaware of its prominent place in her estate planning until after her death.

This gift will have significant impacts on the communities served by HOBT. Three years from HOBT’s 2014 financial crisis, and one month away from the end of our fiscal year, HOBT is proud to say that these funds will not be needed to balance the organization’s operating budget. HOBT intends to complete the current fiscal year on target, and has a balanced budget for the coming year. Instead, this gift from Sarah Bowman makes much bigger things possible.

HOBT’s Vision
Over the past three years, HOBT has been working toward a transformational plan to build a more resilient organization, to address the issues of owning an aging and distressed building, and to better serve its neighbors. The plan centers on a rebranding of HOBT’s Avalon Theater at the corner of 15th Avenue South and East Lake Street as a neighborhood art center. HOBT will continue to own and operate the building, and will continue to use it to present programming.

Nearly all of HOBT’s programming can be condensed so that it relies on the Avalon Theater stage 20 weeks of the year. This leaves 30 weeks each year to fill the space with arts programming and events that represent the cultures present in the neighborhoods served by HOBT. Imagine live music, dance, theater, film, birthday parties, weddings and more. The additional income will strengthen HOBT’s ability to work toward its mission to bring people together for the common good. Making an updated facility more accessible to more users serves a deep need for rehearsal and performance space in the Twin Cities. For HOBT’s neighbors in the Midtown Phillips, East Phillips and Powderhorn Park neighborhoods, that means more weekends that the Avalon Theater marquee is lit, more nights with activity on the corner of 15th & Lake, and more opportunities to connect with neighbors across cultures.

HOBT’s Next Steps
HOBT believes that a capital campaign will be needed to raise three million dollars to make this vision possible. Funds will be needed for upgrading the building’s basic infrastructure, for making the building more accessible to a wider range of audiences, and for changes that will transform the building into a powerful asset for realizing this vision.

Sarah’s gift of $275,000 is critical to moving HOBT toward this capital campaign. These funds will make several things possible including:

  • Engaging a capital campaign feasibility study to assess our community’s support for the project.
  • Producing architectural drawings and graphics to visually communicate what we intend to do.
  • Strengthening staff capacity to take on the additional work that will be required.
  • Developing a new business plan to ensure that HOBT programming and guest programming strike a balance between programming that furthers HOBT’s mission and programming that sustains HOBT’s finances.

While HOBT has been aware for over a year that this work would be needed to transform the organization, the timing of Sarah Bowman’s gift will bring the organization from its current position to a point where a capital campaign is underway.

HOBT’s 2017-2018 Season
In the meantime, HOBT will continue to present high quality programming to further its mission to bring people together for the common good through the power of puppet and mask performance. In 2016, three Twin Cities theater critics listed three different HOBT productions in their year-end top ten lists of best performances, including THE STORY OF CROW BOY developed by Sandra Spieler, Steve Epp, Momoko Tanno and Masa Kawahara and QUEEN written by Erik Ehn and Junauda Petrus and directed by Alison Heimstead.

HOBT is in the midst of implementing a two-year programmatic theme exploring what it means to be a good neighbor. In the coming season, this theme shows up in multiple ways:

  • In the seventh year of HOBT’s Phillips Project, 150 youth at three partner sites will participate in high quality afterschool and summer arts education programing exploring culturally-specific stories of people who make a difference in the neighborhoods where these youth live.
  • An eighteenth season of Saturday Puppet Shows for Kids will present low-cost matinee puppet performances for families who live nearby, including Spanish language and bilingual performances.
  • HOBT’s theme will culminate in the February 18 premiere of NEIGHBORHOOD OF MAKE-BELIEVE by Bart Buch. The show uses the life and work of Fred Rogers as a frame to tell stories about our own neighborhoods. The premiere will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the premiere of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD.
  • For a seventh year, Alison Heimstead will lead Puppet Lab, an opportunity for four emerging artists in to experiment wildly within the field of puppetry and share their work with an audience.
  • Sandy Spieler will continue to develop her work around issues of water quality, including a community residency in Michigan.
  • Steve Ackerman will lead quarterly Puppet Cabaret events featuring new work by local puppeteers.
  • HOBT will continue to offer residencies to thousands of youth in schools and other settings across the Twin Cities and across the state.
  • Sandy Spieler will lead a 44th annual MayDay Parade, Ceremony and Festival scheduled for May 6, 2018.

Through the month of August, HOBT is conducting an end-of-fiscal-year fundraising appeal. After its first week, the appeal is $3,000 toward a $24,000 goal to end the current fiscal year on target and start the new fiscal year in a strong position. HOBT welcomes gifts of any size to demonstrate wide community support for its work.

If you have questions or comments, please contact HOBT Executive Director Corrie Zoll at czoll@hobt.org or 612-540-5366.

June 12, 2017: Community listening session feedback

The purpose of this update is to share feedback received through HOBT’s May 2017 online survey and open community listening session. If you have other questions or concerns, contact HOBT Executive Director Corrie Zoll at 612-721-2535 or czoll@hobt.org.

In 2015, HOBT’s board acknowledged the accessibility, safety, and maintenance needs of the Avalon Theater make it necessary for HOBT either to invest in upgrading the Avalon Theater or to find a new home elsewhere. The board developed an assessment of the current conditions of the building and began to explore various options for HOBT to either stay in the Avalon or find a new home. Significantly, exploring these scenarios revealed that the cost to HOBT over ten years would be similar whether the organization stayed in the Avalon Theater or rented facilities elsewhere. Each scenario would be likely to add $2-3 Million to HOBT’s budget over a decade.

In December 2016, after gathering feedback from community members, artists, staff, and peer organizations, HOBT’s board of directors passed a resolution committing to an effort to maintain HOBT’s home in the Avalon Theater and to an effort to raise the capital needed to upgrade the Avalon to meet the needs of HOBT and the communities it serves for future generations.

After this decision was made, HOBT began to develop a process that considers the need to first understand HOBT’s current relationships with its stakeholders and then to set strategic goals for HOBT to serve these stakeholders. With these goals in place, HOBT can determine how the Avalon Theater can best be used as an asset to reach those goals. With this vision, HOBT can develop building plans, estimate costs and develop a business model to support the work. Only then can HOBT responsibly begin to call on our communities to help us raise the capital needed to make this vision into a reality. HOBT expects this will be a multi-year project and is committed to continuing the momentum that has been built.

In May 2017, HOBT released an online survey. We believe that employees, artists and donors were heavily represented in the over 150 responses we received as of June 12. These are valuable stakeholders, but we acknowledge that their voices do not represent our neighbors or other target audiences.

Read a detailed summary of the survey results.

The survey asked respondents what might excite them in terms of future programming. We listed music, film, a coffee and wine bar, different programming, or more of the same. We saw no clear trends. The specific content of future programming is not overly important to this group. We asked what was most exciting about the prospect of upgrading the building. People were excited about:

  • HOBT staying on this corner
  • Ensuring HOBT will be around for another generation
  • Better air quality
  • More accessibility physically as well as culturally

We asked what it would take for respondents to get excited about the planning process. A clear theme that came through was a need to use this opportunity to change more than the building. Respondents reported wanting to see more neighborhood involvement, an elevation of the way HOBT presents itself to the world, a more diverse power structure with new people involved and new voices at the table, and more work across cultures.

We asked respondents for their biggest concerns about the process. By a wide margin, respondents were most concerned about the cost, specifically the possibility that the cost of the project might mean that compromises have to be made such that the building and/or HOBT would lose its character, or be a force for gentrification on Lake Street. Or worse, respondents feared what would happen if the Avalon was upgraded but organizational structure and practices were not updated accordingly. Some expressed concern about whether HOBT will invite the right people to the table to make a plan.

Also in May 2017, HOBT held a community listening session. Attendees were mainly board, staff, and artists. In this session, attendees reviewed the survey results to date and discussed the possibilities and challenges that might arise with three possible scenarios for how HOBT and the Avalon. Key points in the discussion are captured in a graphic recording drawn by Amy Sparks.

What happens next?

Over the summer of 2017, HOBT will hold a listening session with a group of our Spanish-speaking neighbors to explore similar issues. HOBT hopes to hold similar sessions with other communities represented in the neighborhoods served by HOBT. If you would like to share your own thoughts, contact HOBT Executive Director Corrie Zoll at 612-721-2535 or czoll@hobt.org.

HOBT is located in south Minneapolis at 1500 East Lake Street, one block west of Bloomington Avenue. There is a parking lot directly behind the theater, to the north.

Across the street is the vibrant Mercado Central, full of authentic Latino food and goods.

Four blocks to the west is the Midtown Exchange building, in the former Sears tower, and its Midtown Global Market (international foods and gifts), while Ingebretsen's Scandinavian Deli & Gifts - an 80-year old Minneapolis institution - is two blocks east.