Dec. 23, 2004
Duluth musician gives young artists a
place to exhibit their talents
By Chris Hamilton
It’s a recent Monday afternoon, and Chris
Halverson, founder of the nonprofit Twin Ports Music and Arts Collective,
is feeling glum.
He’s not really a dark person. In fact,
for the past nine months, the 34-year-old has devoted nearly all
his free time and much of his money to the sunny proposition of
developing the MAC, an experimental place for Duluth’s young
artists, writers and musicians to hone their nascent skills.
It’s a constant struggle to keep the doors
open and lights on, but on this day he really should be happy. The
previous weekend, the space at 22 N. First Ave. W. hosted a successful
new art show. But the show’s creators neglected to clean up
after themselves as promised. Among the empty wine bottles and paper
plates, Halverson struggles with what has become an increasingly
“I keep telling people that the ‘C’
in MAC doesn’t stand for Chris,” said Halverson, who
for a funeral is wearing an uncharacteristic coat and tie on his
6-foot-4 frame. “I guess that’s what happens when you
don’t pay people.”
He shrugs and, moments later, any sign of frustration
has vanished. He’s grinning as he rambles free and fast about
the project, lodged in his mind for years, that is now reality.
His friends and supporters say this short-term memory for the tough
and tedious has been Halverson’s greatest ally in the major
In his day job, Halverson is a technical support
manager for Superior Broadband. At the MAC, he said he doesn’t
take a dime for the roughly 30 to 50 hours per week he puts in.
He and his girlfriend, Serena Modec, have had just one weekend away
from the MAC since April.
“Sometimes we’ll be on our way down
to the MAC and we’ll be saying, ‘Can we really do this
fifth show this week? Is it too much?’” Halverson said.
“But then I’ll get there, and it’s instant rejuvenation.
So why does he want to give so much in such a
nontraditional way to a group of people most people don’t
think of as needy?
Halverson started in bands as a teenager in the
early 1990s and, like most young musicians in the area, struggled
to find venues that didn’t serve alcohol so people of all
ages could attend. As soon as he started booking shows, the place
would close, he said. There was Faces nightclub off London Road
in the 1980s, then the Incline Station and, of course, the Recycla-bell
in the early 1990s. The latest outlet to close was RoundAbout Records
The MAC doesn’t serve alcohol unless artists
serve it free at their own openings. Modec said she believes Halverson
wanted to sabotage the conditioning to drink and smoke that many
musicians fall into because they have nowhere else to play but bars.
“I think that he is more stubborn than he
would like to think,” Modec said. “I really think he
really wants it to work because we’ve gotten a lot of “You’ll
never make it because there is no alcohol.”
He also was a West End kid who spent every day
at the Boys and Girls Club, eventually working there. Then in his
late 20s, he wandered to south Texas, where he worked for a university
and met a man who decided one day to open the doors to an empty
building and set out a lawn chair.
Within a few years, they had created a used computer
store and flea market, pretty much by responding to what people
who stopped by wanted the space to be, Halverson said.
Duluth City Councilor Donny Ness, 30, was a founding
MAC board member. The two met after Halverson moved back to Duluth
in 2001. From the start, Halverson pushed his idea for the MAC,
Ness said. Halverson put a lot of value in the small victories,
such as getting formally organized and finding a space, Ness said.
“If he weren’t the type of person
he is, I think he would have walked away from this project a long
time ago,” Ness said.
Ness had to pull back because of other commitments,
and similar time constraints from other board members have forced
Halverson to do more with only a couple of student volunteers.
Alan Sparhawk, 36, guitarist and singer for Duluth’s
own international indie rockers, Low, met Halverson in college.
Halverson calls Sparhawk his spiritual adviser and fellow doer.
“I recognize similar things in him and me,”
said Sparhawk, who has had his hand in a number of local arts ventures,
including his own record label and studio. “I see he is kind
of driven by the idea of shaping and improving a community. It is
just that some people have that drive and some people don’t.
“I like Chris,” Sparhawk said. “He
reminds me of what I wish I could do in the community.”
To get MAC off the ground, Sparhawk said Halverson
had the right combination of smarts and humility to seek out the
unpaid advice of experienced people in the local arts community.
For instance, he tapped Sparhawk about the ins and outs of working
with touring bands.
Halverson is more than willing to share his own
insights with any young person who wants to share their music or
Coincidentally, one of Halverson’s and the
MAC’s greatest challenges has been communicating the organization’s
unique nature to community members. It’s an inclusive atmosphere.
There are no juries to judge art displays and no band tryouts.
“Chris is very unassuming and humble person,”
Ness said. “He’s not out there to bring attention to
People have been slow to grasp that the MAC is
open to everyone. All they need to do is shoot him an e-mail, and
they’ll get something going, Halverson said. It’s a
lot of work to sift through all that. A lot of time to book shows,
promote them and keep up the Web site, www.twinportsmac.org. And
it will take more to achieve Halverson’s goals of keeping
regular hours, building an endowment and creating new and steady
“It just amazes me how dedicated he has
been and how much of a scrape he’s been in sometimes, not
sure if we’re going to make it,” Modec said. “I
love him. He is my boyfriend. But it’s still amazing to me
how he refuses to let go of it.”