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Minnesota arts community mourns writer Pamela Espeland

A portrait of Pamela Espeland by her husband, John Whiting. (Facebook)
A portrait of Pamela Espeland by her husband, John Whiting. (Facebook)

by Jay Gabler

September 27, 2021

Pamela Espeland, a writer and editor who was one of the busiest and most passionate journalists covering the Minnesota arts scene, died on Sunday evening after an apparent stroke, according to a statement her family shared this afternoon on Facebook.

"Many of you know her as a voice for the Twin Cities arts community," they wrote in a post made available to Espeland's Facebook friends. "Some of you probably met her and John at a show at the Dakota, Orchestra Hall, Icehouse, or the old Artists Quarter. You've likely read her column, interviews, and articles on MinnPost and [the] Star Tribune. Maybe you caught her at the yarn shop or Sebastian Joe's. As a friend once told her, 'You're accepted at more places than VISA.'"

Tanner Curl, executive director of MinnPost — where Espeland was a longtime arts columnistwrote on Twitter that he was "absolutely stunned" at the news, and that the publication was preparing "a remembrance that will be a start to recognize the incredible gifts that Pamela brought to MinnPost and to our community." Update 9/28: This remembrance has now been published.

Espeland was a familiar face to thousands of Twin Cities artists and audience members who became accustomed to seeing her at concerts, plays, art exhibits, and readings. She was a great enthusiast, but brought a critical perspective to her writing and a well-honed reporter's instinct for important stories like her most recent MinnPost article, about the departure of community advocate Joan Vonderbruggen from the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

As the Twin Cities Arts Reader notes, Espeland was a Carleton College graduate who "alternately authored, coauthored, or edited more than 200 books, including both fiction and non-fiction titles," during her employment with Minnesota's Free Spirit Publishing, which specializes in self-help books for kids. She also wrote for the Star Tribune, National Public Radio, and other sources. Marianne Combs, a fellow arts journalist, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Espeland’s widower John Whiting: a photographer whose work often accompanied Espeland’s stories.

In the music world, Espeland was known as a fan of all types of music, but she was particularly knowledgeable and passionate about jazz. She understood the depth of our jazz scene, and constantly worked to illuminate its stories. Many of us at The Current knew and worked alongside Pamela, and our thoughts are with her family and colleagues at this very sad time.

"Pamela was one of the first people to make me feel truly welcome in the jazz scene as a talent booker," remembers Diane, host of The Current's Local Show. "Her warmth and care for the arts community was undeniable."

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.