John Marks, ACL '22

Where in Minnesota could you catch a K-pop band one night, an Appalachian folk duo the next, and then wrap up the week with a traditional Celtic concert? At The Cedar Cultural Center, of course. For comedians and collectives, The Cedar has been the premiere venue in Minnesota, if not the Upper Midwest, to see top-notch world and local performers.

In addition, says Arts and Cultural Leadership alumnus and The Cedar’s operations director, John Marks, it is also “a neighborhood anchor that drives a lot of economic and cultural vitality in one of the most densely populated, diverse neighborhoods in the state.”

Celebrating the Vibrancy of a Diverse Arts Scene

John Marks black and whitehead shot

The Cedar promotes intercultural appreciation and sharing through its over 200 annual shows and programs. John, who began his role as operations director in the fall of 2023, is in charge of many of the organization’s internal and public-facing functions.

“You're gonna be wearing many hats,” he says, “and I do for sure.” John handles all of the human resources functions, like navigating existing policies, recommending changes and adjustments, and handling benefits and payroll. He manages the facility and provides leadership for the events staff, who ensure that “the concerts are safe, comfortable, and enjoyable for both the artists and the audiences.”

John works closely with the executive director to oversee the organization's finances and manage daily cash flow. He also collaborates with the board of directors to develop and implement strategic goals.

A key part of his job is to build and sustain belonging, dignity, and justice frameworks and initiatives with The Cedar’s Racial Equity Task Force to ensure that they are “embodying those values on a day-to-day basis.”

Built in the 1940s as a movie theater, the historic building recently had all of its doors and windows in the entrance replaced, and the neon marquee was retrofitted with LED light bulbs. John is currently exploring upgrading the stage lighting and increasing their capacity for digital content creation, like live streams and a more robust media archive.

“I'm still learning so much every day,” he says. “Sometimes it's all kind of washing over me, and I have to grab and hold on to little bits and pieces of knowledge.” 

A Rich Legacy of Community Engagement

Exterior of Cedar Cultural Center

This year marks the 35th anniversary of The Cedar, and John says much of its lasting success is due to the generous involvement of the community.

“There's so much legacy, so much community investment that has kept this place going for that many years,” he says. “We have 250 volunteers who help make sure that our shows run smoothly, clean up, set up, all of that. They also volunteer on our committees and our board. We had a volunteer help us translate things into different Somali dialects, and another volunteer helped us develop some language for a Guatemalan artist who's performing here next month. It's really lovely and unique.”

The Cedar–Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis is home to one of the largest immigrant communities in the Twin Cities. It’s an ideal location for a top-tier global music venue.

“We really support cutting-edge, contemporary artists working across musical genres from all over the world and locally,” John says. “We create a huge support system for emerging artists here in the Twin Cities through our Cedar Commissions, programs, and festivals.”

From Skater Boy to Skilled Leader

John’s interest in the arts began as a teenager who dove into different alternative subcultures, like skateboarding, punk, hip hop, and graffiti, which exposed him to other experimental art forms.

He earned an associate’s degree in sound arts, then an interdisciplinary bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota, focusing on applied business, art, and communication studies.

He worked in music production at the University of Minnesota School of Music for many years. He has made short films that have been commissioned by organizations like the Walker Art Center and screened at experimental and underground film festivals across North America. 

The walls of the green room in the Cedar Cultural Center is papered with band flyers. It has a small gray couch and a wooden coffeetable.

John founded a nonprofit art gallery called Art of This in Minneapolis, which ran from 2005–10. He also co-curated the Soap Factory's 2013 Minnesota Biennial, an eight-week-long arts exhibition featuring over 40 artists. He is still a multidisciplinary artist, primarily focusing on moving image and sound.

When he was considering graduate school and looked at the ACL curriculum, he thought that the coursework would dovetail well with what he was already doing. Even with so much hands-on professional experience, the program could help him focus on his administrative skills and propel him into a leadership role.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how much I didn't already know,” he says. “There was so much about the Twin Cities arts and cultural landscape that was made new to me by the program, and there was so much information to soak up.”

“I'm really a lifelong learner,” he continues. “I started the ACL program when I was in my forties. I finished my undergraduate degree in my late thirties. I feel like my education is not over yet. I don't know what's next, but I'm eager to learn more.”

Learn and challenge apparently. There’s still a bit of the rebel in John, who continues to look for nontraditional practices and ways of interrogating the status quo. “That's kind of where I have always found myself,” he says, “in those strange intersections, the spaces between either emergent or established forms.”

Advice for Students

“Lean into what you don't know. Explore the areas of the industry that you don't already feel like you have a grasp of. There's so much that can be uncovered. My cohort opened my eyes to so many ways of thinking and being, so many approaches to arts and cultural work that were totally new to me. I was grateful that my cohort came from so many disparate places within the community and the industry. You're not gonna find that anywhere else.” 

Memorable Courses

  • Board Service with Anne Sin Joo Preston
  • Culture, Place, and Community: Ways of Living Together in the 21st Century with Tom Borrup and Carrie Christensen 
  • Financial Management for Arts Nonprofits, Community Organizations, and Artists with Dawn Bentley


Head shot photos provided by John Marks


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn