It has been the home of offbeat talk shows, activist political hours and beloved local programming for decades, but the Minneapolis Television Network will get a new home this year.
The public-access station will move from its studios on Main Street to the Northeast Arts District’s Thorp Building after more than two decades in the St. Anthony Main Complex. In its new space, MTN will join the city’s hotbed of artists, creatives and media makers.
“It’s the heart of the Northeast spirit to be a creative entrepreneur. It’s also this do-it-yourself, make something happen [attitude] that is at the heart of MTN,” said Michael Fallon, MTN’s executive director. “We want to be a stable, key component of what’s going on there.”
The move comes after years of talks with the city, which has consistently recommended that MTN move out of the trendy riverfront to avoid rising rent and financial issues. MTN, which runs channels 16, 17 and 75, is a nonprofit corporation founded by the City Council and Minneapolis mayor in 1983.
Around the time Fallon took the reins of MTN nearly three years ago, the city hit the station with significant budget cuts, in addition to increased competition from online video sites. MTN’s move from Northeast’s commercial district to the city’s first and largest artist community is a return to a focus on locally driven programming and collaboration.
The Thorp building is known for its artistic tenants and for being the home of Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio tour in the country, now in its 20th year. MTN will open in its new space by the end of April, just weeks before the festival begins in May.
It’s the goal of MTN that the move will expand its member-producer base of about 300 and strengthen collaboration with local artists who make media or can adapt their work to TV, which isn’t something they’ve had along the buzzing nightlife on Main Street.
“We don’t get a lot of support [here], it doesn’t resonate. In Northeast, we’re going to resonate so much quicker with the people who will surround us,” said Paige Tighe, MTN’s marketing and outreach manager.
Council Member Kevin Reich, whose ward includes MTN’s future home, endorsed the move, saying Northeast’ arts community will uniquely understand its needs.
The new space will have two fully equipped studios and a YouTube-friendly, DIY space that Fallon called “Community Tube.” It’s a clear nod to the popularity of video sites, which he said have likely hindered the station’s growth. It’s his hope that artists and younger residents will take advantage of the space and MTN’s local audience before, or in conjunction with, navigating to video sites like YouTube or Vimeo.
The move is possible through a $50,000 city grant and $150,000 loan from the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department. However, the station is also embarking on its own unique development effort.
Lights. Camera. Weird.
To raise $12,000 for the move, MTN is hosting a 24-hour telethon beginning Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. on its three channels.
The telethon will culminate in a live music and TV event at Friday evening with music and live acts. Most importantly, it will also hail a temporary return of the station’s signature weirdness.
Ian Rans, host and creator of “Drinking with Ian,” a long-running local talk show, will be hosting music at 8 p.m. on Friday. Rans first got his start with MTN nearly 20 years ago, taping “Drinking with Ian” at First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry, which had a run of about 100 episodes. The show consisted of live comedy, performances, interviews — and a lot of drinking. Rans taped the last episode in 2011.
“Without MTN we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We’re just some jerks with a camera,” he said.
It was Rans’ dedication to MTN’s signature independent style that became the impetus for the show. The station’s wacky programming was foremost embodied in shows like Fancy Ray McCloney’s “Get Down With It” and eventually in “Freaky Deaky.”
The players behind “Freaky Deaky” will also be returning to MTN for the telethon. Tighe described the program as a “no-holds-bar participatory party on-air,” but anyone who has tuned into the show knows the dynamic, titillating and often confusing show defies genre and labels. While “Freaky Deaky” recently hosted a reunion show, the program hasn’t been on MTN in several years.
It’s this type of content that has resonated the most among local artists, especially the community that MTN will join in its new home.
“MTN learned to embrace the weirdness… It’s cemented now,” Rans said. “Artists have really rallied round MTN… as a bastion of mass media-free speech.”
While the telethon will bring back faces from the station’s past, Tighe also dropped the names of a few surprise guests, including local musicians Martin Dosh, better known as “Dosh,” and Felix of Heiruspecs. Mark Mallman will be writing live songs for donors, and Alexis Moon Casselle (“Kill the Vultures”) and experimental band Downrange Telemetrics are also slated to perform Friday night.
MTN will also have an auction hosted on eBay.com that will feature tickets to local shows, items from its producers and much more. Tighe said MTN regulars, such as Viva and Jerry Beck (“Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos”), will also be a part of the telethon’s morning and afternoon slots. Viewers will be able to donate online or over the phone
She said MTN will likely host an annual, albeit shorter, telethon in its new space to bolster the organization’s fundraising efforts.
For MTN, the telethon will be a mix of the old to herald the new.
“It’s really energizing. I think everyone is excited about the move as it comes together,” Fallon said.