The arts are alive (and they live in Minneapolis)

Brian Thacker travels to Minneapolis to learn more about the favourite city of legendary musician Prince.

Paid partnership with Explore Minnesota

The arts are alive (and they live in Minneapolis)

Brian Thacker travels to Minneapolis to learn more about the favourite city of legendary musician Prince.

The arts are alive (and they live in Minneapolis): to listen along to this story on Minneapolis, or to pause the playback, click the play button:

A white felt hat sits on top of the grand piano in Studio B at Paisley Park. It has been there since 2016, when, like so many nights before, Prince had come down from his residence to play one of his pianos. As he got lost in the music, he left his hat there. The next day, Prince collapsed and died in the elevator of his home. Eight years later and the hat is exactly where he left it. 

“I’ve had Prince fans crying their eyes out when I tell them that story,” our tour guide tells us as we stand in one of the four stylishly appointed recording studios in his home.

I’m on a VIP tour of Paisley Park, Minnesota’s very own Graceland, in the outer suburbs of Minneapolis. This imposing and celebrated 31,000-square-metre complex served as Prince’s home and the centre of his creative universe. And universe is the right word – the property is colossal and cosmic, and all bedecked in his trademark shade of purple that reigns supreme throughout his home and studios.

On the two-hour tour we trace his footsteps throughout an illustrious career – they are tiny footsteps, because he wore a women’s size 6 shoe. And there are lots of shoes. We walk into one room where a long wall is filled floor to ceiling with over 300 pairs of heeled extravagance. 

“There’s another thousand shoes upstairs,” our guide says. “Each pair is custom-made and they range from $600 to $2000.” Many of the shoes on display are scuffed. The musician threw himself around the stage so energetically, he wore and tore his shoes so badly they could only be used for one performance each.

We end our tour inside Prince’s Personal Concert venue. We step through an unpretentious double doorway into a vast space, where a stadium-sized stage is perennially set up for a concert. We watch a video of Prince performing in this very same venue and listen through one of the most advanced sound systems ever assembled.

As I stand in the middle of the room and close my eyes, I could almost feel the pure electricity of those late-night impromptu shows.

Just when I thought Prince’s ‘home’ couldn’t get any bigger, our guide said: “The only thing missing is a nightclub!” He then led us into the suitably flamboyant and flashy NPG Music Club, complete with a bar, lavish purple couches where he serenaded visiting artists such as Madonna and Chaka Khan, and a long staircase leading right up to Prince’s bedroom.

As Prince sang, Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives in Minneapolis). 

The home of rock ‘n’ roll in Minneapolis is undoubtedly First Avenue, which is one of the longest-running rock venues in the country. When Prince set the music scene alight in Minneapolis in the 80s he performed many times at the ‘First Ave’ music venue, which would also be the setting of his movie, Purple Rain. 

The exterior of First Avenue is adorned with a multitude of silver stars featuring the names of marquee artists who have played there – except for one gold star, for Prince himself.

As I stood in line on my first visit, I was awestruck by the names that immediately surrounded me: REM, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, INXS, Faith No More, Nirvana, Bo Diddley, Soul Asylum, Motorhead and Rod Stewart & the Faces.

!I feel like I’m in a music video,” I said to my wife as we stepped inside the surprisingly small and intimate venue. My wife, who had been to First Ave many times, replied: “You instantly feel cool when you step inside here.”

As a local band belted out song after song, I couldn’t help but imagine all those huge names up on that small stage. 

Image © Chad Rieder

Prince is still a larger-than-life hometown hero. He may have only been 5-foot-2, but he looms large around the city. In 2022 the city unveiled an eight-storey $500,000 mural on what would have been his Purple Highness’s 64th birthday.

Art is veritably splashing onto the streets in the city’s many commissioned murals, and not far away from Prince is a mural of another famous Minnesotan. A Bob Dylan mural, set in a hypnotic kaleidoscope background, takes up the entire side of a building.

Art fills the streets and parks. Even before I stepped inside the Walker Art Center I got an art entrée by wandering through the nation’s first-ever sculpture garden. I spent a happy hour strolling around (and through) the forty sculptures that incorporate a playful mix of colour, texture and shape. The cherry on top of this exhibit is quite literal: a giant cherry on top of a 10-metre-high spoon.

The iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry, which was designed especially for the park by pop-art artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, looked particularly tasty on this cold winter’s day. The cherry was covered in a vanilla frosting of snow, while the spoon was resting on the world’s largest ice-cream snowy sundae. 

You know the arts are popular when it’s Super Bowl Sunday and the Walker Art Center is still packed with people. The permanent collection includes Warhol, Lichtenstein and even a Yoko Ono film, but I also timed my visit perfectly for a fascinating exhibition of Eastern Bloc photography. The displays housed films and art from the 1960s to 1980s as artists struggled against state repression. 

The Walker also has one of the most active and influential contemporary performing arts programs in the United States. Which is not surprising – on a per capita basis, the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) are second only to New York City in number of theatre tickets sold.

From the 103-year-old Orpheum Theater to the space-age Guthrie Theater, you can see everything from one-man shows to major Broadway musicals.

I think Prince sums up the embodiment of the arts in Minneapolis the best. He was a musician, performer, artist and visionary. Prince could have lived anywhere, but as he once said: “I like Hollywood. I just like Minneapolis a little better.”

Photo © Krivit Photography

Need to know

Getting there:

The Minneapolis St Paul International Airport is served by international flights; the light-rail transit (LRT) connects to downtown Minneapolis.

Best time to go:

Unless you love lots of snow and cold, summer is the best—from June to August, daily highs flutter around 30º degrees. In early June is Celebration, the annual gathering that brings Prince fans from all over the world to honour Prince’s birthday.

Where to stay:

The Chambers Hotel is the first Minneapolis hotel to offer a combined art, design and true boutique experience. Set in the heart of the downtown theatre district, Travel + Leisure wrote, ‘No hotel offers a better introduction to Minneapolis’ art, music, and theater than The Chambers.’

Must-pack item:

Comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking around galleries, going on tours, standing up at music gigs – and you can’t go to Minneapolis without walking around the biggest shopping mall in America (Mall of America).

How to do it:

Navigating Minneapolis is a breeze thanks to its well-connected transportation system. The city offers an extensive network of buses that crisscross through various neighbourhoods, providing convenient and affordable options for getting around.

Additionally, Minneapolis is a bike-friendly city with numerous dedicated lanes and trails.

Anything else:

One of Minneapolis’ most unusual attractions is the House of Balls. Best known for faces sculpted out of bowling balls, the artist Allen Christian also creates art out of reclaimed objects from shovels to kitchenware.


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More information

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