Denfeld News

Dec. 23, 2004
Duluth News Tribune

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 too-individual burden.

“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 undertaking.

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 in 2002.

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 art.

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 himself.”

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 programming.

“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.”

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