In the Heart of the Beast’s MayDay Parade is Getting “decentralized”

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A screenshot from a recent meeting. Photo taken by Sheila Regan.

MayDay will now take place all year long as HOBT reimagines its future.

The annual MayDay Parade and Festival hosted by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre is getting “decentralized” both in 2021 and beyond, according to a recent Zoom meeting held by the company. That means MayDay will not include a large parade, festival and ceremony in Powderhorn Park on the first Sunday in May. Instead, it will be a program that will take place all year long.

HOBT has yet to unveil specific programming that will be part of the new MayDay-centered model, but on its “Roots of MayDay” page on its website, the organization outlines the core values it will be bringing from MayDay into it’s year-long programming, including environmental justice, a labor movement lens, queer values, and BIPOC leadership. 

The MayDay Parade and Festival is almost as old as HOBT itself, having first taken place in 1974, soon after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam. An ad-hoc affair that involved artists parading around Powderhorn Park with puppets and instruments, the festival grew into a gargantuan event over the years, drawing tens of thousands of people each year to South Minneapolis for the festivities. 

The event eventually became too large for the organization to support, and in January of 2019, HOBT made an announcement it would not host the festival again without help from other groups. After public outcry and a major fundraising effort, the parade and festival did take place that year, but by May, most of the theater’s staff, including its artistic leadership, were laid off. 

In September of that year, HOBT announced that the organization would take a year off of MayDay in 2020. This was long before COVID-19 would be the cause of cancellations of festivals in Minnesota and around the country. 

The decision to take a year off was to re-examine the festival, both financially as well as with the intent of rooting out white supremacy in the festival in the organization. HOBT has posted about the issue of white supremacy on its website. On a page devoted to the organization’s equity work, the website outlines ways artists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have reported on toxicity, micro-aggression, and an un-safe environment. 

“HOBT did not invent White Supremacy, but we have been fostering it in our work in a way that is antithetical to HOBT’s values and have a moral obligation to dismantle White Supremacy embedded in HOBT’s process and culture,” the equity page states. 

In 2020, the organization saw more layoffs but also new leadership hires, though currently all staff are currently furloughed. 

The MayDay tradition, without the puppet-filled floats, mass gathering in the park, and ceremony that takes place in the park’s pond, will look very different under a new de-centralization model, according to board members. 

“The concept of having 60,000 people in Powderhorn Park on the first Sunday in May and that being the Mayday celebration— that’s not what we are envisioning in the future,” said board treasurer Victoria Cox Igoe.  “We are thinking about decentralizing Mayday both in time and space. That is celebrating MayDay over the course of the year, that is creating different places physically or virtually, that Mayday can be experienced.” 

Ashley Bradford, a member of the new MayDay Council, defined decentralization as meaning “not one person should hold the space or claim it,” she said. “We want the multiple groups of people that have contributed to this event over the years to be able to support and have their hand in developing this beautiful event in whichever way they can support it.”

The February 23 meeting, hosted by the board of directors, provided additional context about a recent series of website posts and videos that are part of the theater’s 2021 Community Update. The posts address major changes that have occurred in the organization that pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic, including a series of major layoffs that happened in 2019 and the announcement that the organization would not host MayDay alone. The theater also addresses the subsequent implementation of the MayDay Council, which led the process of “reimagining a sustainable, decentralized, community-built Mayday,” according to board member Rosa Raarup, chair of the External Affairs Committee. 

“Right now, power is shifting, staff will be coming back. And HOBT will further support work of the Mayday council to launch hands-on work towards the new, equitable, sustainable and decentralized Mayday celebration,” Raarup said. 

“The work that the MayDay Council did was take a moment of pause, a big moment of pause,” said Candida Gonzalez, a member of the MayDay Council, during the Zoom meeting. “And we took time for reflection, for truth telling and for future visioning.” According to Gonzalez, the MayDay Council examined ways to make MayDay and the theater sustainable, positive and inclusive.

“We’re really stretching our minds to think about what that can look like,” said Cox Igoe about what the changes will look like, adding that more messaging will come as soon as the end of March of this year. 

“Dreaming is still in play,” Cox Igoe said. “We’re worried about some of these beloved things that that are so important to us. And I at this point in time, I don’t I don’t know if I can say much more.

“It was a lot of confronting all of these things that that that have happened over the years, and things that people have said and things that have been ignored,” Gonzalez said. “Then also just surrendering to this yearlong process and opening ourselves up to just imagining what could be and I think moving forward.” 

According to Bradford, part of their work was to look at other festivals around the country and around the world. “It was really great to learn how other festivals and people of color are celebrating their culture and their heritage.” 

The MayDay Council’s process was not just centered around decentralization, but decolonization, according to MayDay Council member Susana de León. 

“We are nestled in the middle of a community that’s very diverse, and not only that, but we are on Indigenous land, and we live next door to people who have taken care of this land for centuries, for millennia,” De León said. “We need to acknowledge that, and also we need to work with all of the cultures that are around to create something that reflects everyone in this community. That’s part of this decolonization and decentralization of the work.” 

Besides the future of a new decentralized MayDay, the board leadership also presented a glimpse of other changes that have happened and that are afoot within the organization. Those include a new structure that allows for co-chairs to run the board, a triangular structure between the board, the MayDay Council, and the staff, with all programs falling in alignment with the question “How do we celebrate MayDay year-round?” Raarup said. 

The meeting also included information about HOBT’s plan to distribute $10,000 in reparations to a group of BIPOC artists for their “under-compensated emotional, creative and physical labor from 2016-2018,” according to Raarup. 
In the meeting the board also outlined the organization’s current fiscal status. HOBT’s actual budget for last fiscal year (September 1- August 31) was $323,000. Their budgeted income for this year’s fiscal year is $805,600, while their current debt is $175,500.

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based journalist. She's a regular contributor to The UpTake, and also contributes to TC Daily Planet and City Pages. Her work can also be found at mnartists, VitaMN, Classical MPR and in other local publications.

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