Minnesota arts patron Sage Cowles dies

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota lost a champion of the arts this week. Jane Sage Cowles died at 88.

Cowles and her husband, John, whose family owned the Star Tribune newspaper, were among the most prominent and generous philanthropists in state history.

Cowles' legacy is spread across Minneapolis, in particular.

"(She had a) fierce commitment to making sure there were life, that there were homes, in terms of performance spaces for the dancers," said Lisa Houlton, Artistic Director of the Minnesota Dance Theatre. "Thus, the Cowles Center for Performing Arts."

The Cowles Center, including the historic Masonic Temple building and the moved and renovated Schubert Theatre, are the latest jewels in the Hennepin Theatre District of Minneapolis.

Cowles was born Jane Sage Fuller and grew up a dancer.

"She was very inspiring to so many of us and being an artist herself, I think, once an artist, always an artist," said Houlton.

In fact, Cowles was performing as recently as the 1990s when she and John danced, naked, in a special performance at the Walker Art Center.

"All 60 people on stage were naked," recalled Philip Bither, Walker Senior Curator for Performing Arts. "It had nothing to do with sexuality. It was about a common, beautiful, final vision of humanity together, but it was an act of courage and an act of commitment on her part as to like how much she was willing to put herself on the line for the sake of great art."

Sage and John Cowles were early and enthusiastic supporters of the now-iconic Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. The glass structure that houses tropical plants year-round and encloses the famous Frank Gehry fish sculpture bears their name: "Cowles Conservatory."

The Jane Sage Cowles name is on the University of Minnesota Softball Stadium. Cowles believed that people should develop their bodies along with their minds.

"She had a contagious, infectious kind of energy and spirit that is just so palpable everywhere," said Viso. "It is a huge, huge loss to our community, an exuberant, energetic, vibrant person who just believed in culture, believed in community, believed in individuals."

Lisa Houlton recalled the prolific Arts patron Friday.

"Her roommate who was one of my beloved teachers, Mary Hinckson, said to me this morning, 'She's still here. Not to worry. She's still here.'"


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