On Thursday, May 26th, if you were in Downtown Saint Paul around lunchtime, maybe headed across the Skyway bridge over 6th Street to the food court in the Alliance Bank Center, you would have come across two young buskers playing guitar. Except, as you got closer, you would have realized that both their cases were closed. Then, if you listened, you would have heard that they were good. And I mean really good.
Welcome to a Random Act of Culture, a grant initiative sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. These acts echo the Knight Foundation's efforts to "help weave the arts into the very fabric of a community" by putting the arts into public spaces free of charge, available to anyone and everyone who happens upon them. "For those brief moments," says Knight Foundation Vice President Dennis Scholl, "people going along in their everyday lives are part of a shared, communal experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live."
The two young guitarists, Austin Wahl and Xavier Jara, were participating in Random Acts through their connection with The Schubert Club, where they have both been 1st prize winners of the Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship Competition in 2010 and 2009, respectively.
More recently, both Austin and Xavier participated in Minnesota Varsity, a project from Minnesota Public Radio that showcases high school musical talent throughout Minnesota. Austin, who was selected as a Showcase Artist and performed at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 17th, 2011, and Xavier, who was a Featured Artist, have been playing guitar together for years.
Sitting cross-legged in the skyway, the two soon-to-be-graduating high-schoolers played beautifully as old friends, laughing and sometimes chatting while they played. Past them streamed a steady line of lunch-goers and noontime downtowners. Some surprised individuals would stop and listen before continuing on, maybe snapping a few photos on their phones. When asked how long the duo was scheduled to perform, Austin just grinned and said, "as long as we want."
The Schubert Club is only one of the organizations affiliated with The Arts Partnership, the group overseeing the grant. Over the coming weeks and months, in public spaces across the city, you might also stumble upon performances by resident artists from the Minnesota Opera, musicians of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, or resident performance companies of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
For videos and information about Random Acts of Culture, visit www.randomactsofculture.org.