Change maker

Robyne Robinson has mastered the art of reinvention with her new and exciting career in the arts.

Robyne Robinson
Robyne Robinson, a longtime supporter of the arts, poses in front of a painting by Drew Peterson at the Public Functionary art space in Minneapolis, where she serves on the board. Photo by Tracy Walsh

Many Twin Cities residents remember Robyne Robinson as a former Fox 9 news anchor and producer.

Though her longtime tenure as a news leader ended in 2010, her other passions, ambitions, adventures — and successes — haven’t waned in the slightest.

In fact, her trajectory as an artist, curator, promoter and even candidate for lieutenant governor started taking shape 10 years before she left the TV business.

She made sure of that.

“Many women in TV don’t have long careers,” Robinson said, adding that the arrival of high-definition TV made it even harder for broadcasters to escape scrutiny over even the slightest of wrinkles, especially women.

“You have to constantly evolve,” she said. “As you get older, you really have to think about: ‘What’s the next step for me?’ You’re constantly reinventing yourself.”

Since her departure from Fox, Robinson has taken on numerous other roles in the Twin Cities, including most recently a post as director of the MSP Arts and Culture Program with the MSP International Airport Foundation for the past four years.

Robinson’s been a jewelry designer, a PR guru, a board member for many arts organizations and a sought-after emcee, too.

And now, as of this past January, she’s moving into yet another time of metamorphosis with a new position as a part-time arts consultant with Minneapolis-based Alliiance Architects. (She’ll continue her role with the airport foundation part time, too, through her new consulting company— five x five — named for a radio term used in airport towers for full-strength signals and clarity.)

“I’m lucky enough to always have the opportunity to say: ‘What else?’ There’s always something else we have to do,” Robinson said. “I’m just in a really surprising, but very happy, time in my life.”

A Midwest upbringing

Born and raised in Chicago, Robinson came of age during the Watergate scandal. Her mother taught second grade in Chicago’s projects. Her dad worked as a principal and later served as an alderman after becoming the first black sergeant at arms at City Hall in Chicago.

“They were very political at a time when black people had their voices being heard,” Robinson said. “It was fascinating to be young and black in Chicago.”

Her parents were friends with the lawyers for the Chicago Seven protestors and other artist/activists such as Oscar Brown Jr.

When she was in high school, Robinson remembers watching Carole Simpson, the African-American weekend anchor at ABC News. With interest, she observed the rise of congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, and even the fictional news-producer character of Mary Tyler Moore, thinking, “I can do that.”

Robinson had an artistic side, too. She loved to sketch, and was fond of her uncle who travelled the world playing the piano for choreographer Agnes DeMille.

But she convinced herself that newscasting was her path, thinking, “I could do art on the side.”

“My parents weren’t big on art as a career,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s first job was working in finance for NBC News while still attending school at Loyola University in Chicago. There weren’t many women around in the industry at the time, so most of her coworkers were men, including Max Robinson, one of the first black network news anchors.

“I was their mascot,” she said. “I was so starry-eyed.”

Once, she announced she’d acquired her first credit card, so her colleagues ran up a huge tab at the bar.

She looked at the bill in awe: “My jaw dropped,” she said. “They looked after me sometimes — and sometimes not.”

Robinson also noticed that the few women who were working in news at the time had it tough. She recalls observing one female producer — on the road during political coverage — talking on the phone with her daughter, saying how much she loved and missed her.

“It struck me how hard it is for women in this field,” Robinson said. “That moment really let me know the choice women make between family and career.”

On TV in Minnesota

Robinson moved to Minneapolis by bus in 1990, to be with her then-fiancé.

“I followed him here with no job and no money,” she said. Robinson landed a gig for the local Fox affiliate KMSP, then called Minnesota 9. She would become the first black prime-time news anchor in Minnesota and ended up working as an anchor and producer for 20 years.

Robinson covered tragedies like the 35W bridge collapse and big political events such as the RNC National Convention.

“Those are things you never forget,” she said.

Robinson sometimes misses the exhilarating feeling of breaking news — and the camaraderie that comes with being a co-anchor.

“You can count on each other,” she said. “I miss the partnership.”

On the other hand, “I don’t miss the politics,” Robinson said, relieved to be free of the endless pressure over her weight, makeup and hair. “There were management meetings about the length of my hair,” she said.

An evolving career

As the years progressed, Robinson experimented with creative projects outside her role as an anchor, in part because she knew TV wouldn’t last forever.

“Women get replaced,” she remembers thinking. “You get old, you get replaced.”

While still working in news, Robinson opened a contemporary art gallery called flatland in Northeast Minneapolis in 2000.

Anne-Marie Wagener, the former director of press and public relations at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, met Robinson during those flatland years. Wagener had just moved to the Twin Cities from Scotland, and didn’t know the anchor was a local celebrity.

About a week after she arrived, Wagener was out with her husband’s friends and the gallery caught her eye. She told the group she’d catch up with them, so she could pop into the space.

“I go in — and there was Robyne,” Wagener said. “Because I’m not from here, I didn’t know her from Adam.”

The two women started talking, and Robinson struck Wagener as passionate, kind and generous. “We had a great chat,” she said.

A month later, Wagener was working at Mia and — while going over a list of press contacts —realized Robinson was a big-name local news anchor.

“I thought, ‘How great for someone in that position to open a gallery,’” Wagener said. “What a brilliant thing for the community and for the artists.”

During that same time, Robinson founded her own part-time boutique PR firm, RRPR, and worked with a variety of local and national clients, including Outkast (assisting with PR for the group’s 2003 album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) and Prince (working PR for shows and other appearances).

Globally inspired and custom designed, Robyne Robinson’s Rox Minneapolis Jewelry line features stones, gems and metal accents collected from around the world. Photos by Tracy Walsh

Jewelry and politics

It was also during those broadcast years, that Robinson’s own artistic endeavors began to blossom.

She started out making jewelry for friends as gifts. But she quickly realized she had a product that people would buy and founded Rox Minneapolis Jewelry.

Robinson lived part-time in Greece for about eight years and found herself inspired by the multicultural influences and exotic materials all around her at fascinating international marketplaces.

One day, Robinson was out with friends at a fund-raiser and was introduced — by local food philanthropist Sue Zelickson — to a man named Frank.

They were talking about how Macy’s was taking over Marshall Fields. Robinson quipped: “So long as they don’t mess with my Frango mints, I don’t care.”

Frank asked if she would ever consider selling her art jewelry line in a department store like Macy’s.

That’s when she learned “Frank” was actually Frank Guzzetta, the president of Macy’s North.

Guzzetta later sent her a massive box of Frango mints, marking the beginning of a working relationship, including a multi-year run for her jewelry line at Macy’s North locations.

Her globally inspired jewelry — worn by actresses and big-name musicians — was featured on national TV and in major magazines, and was eventually sold in stores in Santa Fe, Chicago, New York City and Atlanta, plus in Greece, Vietnam, Kenya, the UK and the British Virgin Islands.

Today Robinson’s jewelry is still winning hearts in boutiques such as Atelier957 in St. Paul and Mia in Minneapolis. She’ll also be selling her work at the Walker Art Center’s annual Jewelry & Accessory Makers Mart this spring.

And yet jewelry is but one facet of Robinson’s eventful past few decades. In 2010, attorney and former Minnesota DFL Rep. Matt Entenza asked her to be his running mate for governor.

Robinson accepted.

“I wanted to honor my father,” she said. “And I wanted to find out what Minnesota politics was all about.”

Entenza’s run for governor wasn’t successful, but Robinson said she’s glad to have had the opportunity to hear the thoughts and perspectives from Minnesotans all around the state.

“It made me love Minnesota all the more,” Robinson said. “Minnesotans truly believe in the good life — the promise of Minnesota that they can pass on to their children.”

A legacy of art

Since 2014, Robinson has been immersed in the work of transforming the arts program at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport into an internationally renowned success.

“The changes that Robyne brought about have been tremendous,” said Alan Howell, the senior architect for the airport. “Robyne’s background and skill in the arts — and amazing industry contacts — have provided us with a different level of interest in the arts program as well as the right level of skill with other organizations. It’s just been a joy and a treat to work with her.”

The Metropolitan Airports Commission, Howell said, is a rather conservative organization and hadn’t had an arts program since the 1990s. That’s all changed now, with the airport’s new mosaics, signature commissions, a film-screening room and a new art park planned for the future.

Other components of the program, founded in 2008 and known as ARTS@MSP, include music, dance and theatrical performances at both terminals; employee exhibitions; a Super Bowl performing arts spectacular; and, coming 2020, the largest public art installation ever for the state.

“Robyne will have a thousand ideas for us — and we’ll be scared of half of them,” Howell said. However, with her focus on taking one step at a time, as well as her unique handle on collaborative partnerships, Robinson has been instrumental in transforming how the airport looks and feels.

Supporting local artists

And that’s just her day job.

Behind the scenes as a board member and volunteer for various other Twin Cities causes, Robinson is working just as hard.

“She’s hugely supportive of art spaces and women,” said Carolyn Payne, the executive director of the Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis, where Robinson has served on the board.

“She’s always willing to show up and help out when asked,” Payne said. “I feel fortunate to count her as a friend.”

Another of Robinson’s friends, arts publicist Kate Iverson, said Robinson brings a unique grace where ever she goes.

“She has a natural warmth with strangers that not many people have,” Iverson said. “She’s like that as a friend, too — non-judgmental, sincere and very chill.”

Iverson said Robinson is just as ambitious as she was back when she became the first black female news anchor in the Twin Cities.

“She has more big ideas and creative vision than most people have in a lifetime,” Iverson said. “So I’m excited to see what her future brings.”

Sheila Regan lives in Minneapolis and writes about art and life for numerous publications, including The Journal, Southwest Journal, City Pages and Twin Cities Daily Planet.