St. Paul Art Crawl: The “teen years”

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The St. Paul Art Crawl existed long before it had that official name. Fourteen years ago, Lowertown artists in St. Paul launched an open studio event as a way of inviting art lovers and supporters into creative workspaces to view and learn about their art. Patrons saw the event as a great way to peer inside the mysterious lives of artists and explore some incredible living quarters. Those small open studio events later become the St. Paul Art Crawl. It may not be as large as Art-a-Whirl or provide the scenic drives that rural art crawls offer, but the St. Paul Art Crawl is undeniably a destination event featuring amazing work by some of the most talented artists in Minnesota.

Event Highlights

Besides artists’ open studios, the following activities and events will be taking place during the Spring Crawl. Keep an ear out for additional activities by checking out the Art Crawl Web site, or asking at individual buildings during the Crawl.

The inaugural St. Paul Silent Auction will take place at Golden’s Deli in the Northwestern Building (275 E. 4th St.) on Friday and Saturday. All proceeds benefit the St. Paul Art Crawl.

262 Studios (262 E. 4th St.) will have wine tasting at Lowertown Wine & Spirits as well as live music by RadJacket on both Friday and Saturday from 7:00-9:30 p.m.

ACVR Warehouse (106 Water St.) will feature Aviette, a Minneapolis-based indie/progressive rock, with Holly Muñoz, guitar/vocals, Justin Hartke, bass, and Kyle Larson, drums on Saturday from 7:00-9:00 pm.

Carleton Building (2285 University Ave.) The newest artists lofts will be hosting the an array of performances in the Community Room (unless otherwise noted). These are just a few highlights; a complete schedule can be found on their Web site.

On Friday, April 25th, Ada Jane will accompany dancers Sharon Picasso and Melissa Brown Guenther from 7:00-8:00 p.m. DJ Array will be spinning and offering karaoke from 9:00-10:00 p.m. Mia Malone wraps up the evening with Japanese fan dancing in the Dance Studio from 9:00-10:00 p.m.

On Saturday, April 26th, indie rocker Jason Shannon will perform from 2:00-4:00 p.m. The Clay Works Jazz Combo performs from 4:00-6:00 p.m., and the band Quitters Go To Meetings will perform from 6:00-7:00 p.m. Medusa Cabaret, a show with music, poetry, and storytelling, runs from 7:00-8:00 p.m.

On Sunday April 27th, Joe Schauer kicks off the final day with solo bass playing in the Center Square Gallery from noon to 1:00 p.m. Piper Reva Jones-Kelley performs from 2:00-3:00 pm.

The Cosmopolitan Building (250 E. 6th St.) offers birthday cake (while it lasts) to celebrate the Sesquicentennial (Minnesota’s 150th birthday), on Friday from 6:00-10:00 p.m. Black Cat Natural Foods will be selling fresh organic food in the parking lot each day.

On Saturday, April 26, mother/daughter jazz musicians Lynn & Livvy perform from 2:00-5:00 p.m.; and Absent Arch plays acoustic folk music on Saturday from 5:00-6:00 p.m. Twin Cities Magic & Costume will show off their new store with live entertainers at various times.

Hamm Building (24 W. 7th Pl.): The Artists Mercantile features an Eco-Friendly Fashion Show with eco-friendly art, fashion and home accessories, on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. There will be music, wine, and cheese.

The Minnesota Museum of American Art (50 W. Kellogg Blvd.) will be displaying the juried art exhibition portion of the 17th Annual 2008 Saint Paul Public School Honors Concert and Art Exhibition, honoring excellence among students in the St. Paul Public Schools.

Northern Warehouse (308 Prince St.): Originally built in 1908, the Northern was the first major project of ArtSpace; it was converted into artists’ living and working quarters. Live music will be performed at the Black Dog Café on the ground floor and the Nautilus Music Theater on the second floor.

Northwestern Building (275 E. 4th St.): One of the tallest artists cooperative buildings downtown, the Northwestern was designed by architect Charles Frost and was completed in 1916. The new music chamber ensemble Zeitgeist will be performing pieces from their recent repertoire on Saturday, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Rossmor Building (500 N. Robert St.): Originally a shoe factory, the Rossmor is home to dozens of artists as well as the new CAMP Bar. CAMP will feature Barbra Streisand impersonator Stephen Brimberg on Friday and Saturday nights (tickets needed).

For more information, contact the Art Crawl Hotline at 651-292-4373 or check out the Web site for maps, images and a database of artists.

As an all-inclusive and non-juried event, the St. Paul Art Crawl welcomes any artist who lives or works in downtown St. Paul. All skill levels and styles can be found in the studios—going from place to place is like a scrumptious treasure hunt. Besides individual artists, various organizations such as Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the College of Visual Arts also participate on a regular basis. The Dorothy Day Center has participated by providing space for artists who not only do not have studios, but who may not even have homes. This year, the Art Crawl has expanded well beyond Lowertown to include 21 sites.

The history of the St. Paul Art Crawl dates back more than twenty years. Creative individuals had long taken advantage of funky, spacious sites in available warehouses and old industrial locations to use as art studios. The historic buildings were ideal because they offered plenty of open space for work and storage, a location where messiness didn’t matter, loads of natural light, and the best feature of all: cheap rent. It wasn’t uncommon for artists to throw down a mattress in their studio, plug in a hot plate, and call it home. Although that practice continues to this day, developers are now aware of the need for affordable living and studio spaces that accommodate artists of all disciplines, while architects look for ways to make buildings appear spacious and uncultivated.

Artist Marla Gamble, treasurer of the Saint Paul Art Collective, has lived in Lowertown since 1975. She lives and works out of her studio in the Lowertown Lofts. “In the 70s and 80s,” says Gamble, “artists were scattered throughout St. Paul. There was a wave of condominium developments in the 1980s, and we pulled together to assist artists who were being evicted from affordable studios. We eventually worked with the City of St. Paul…to create a national model for artists and their families.”

In 1985, the first of the Lowertown artist studios, now known as the Lowertown Lofts, became one of the first legal artists’ housing projects nationwide. For six years, the Lowertown Lofts held an annual open house. Then, when the Northern and Tilsner warehouses were developed as artists’ living quarters and studios, the three buildings banded together to make the event even larger. Eventually, participants included the Jax building, 262 Studios, the Lowertown Commons, and the Rossmor.

“We held our first open house in May of 1986,” remembers Gamble of the Lowertown Lofts. “About 45 artists participated. All the supporters of the project attended—people from the city, architects, and planners all came to see the show and the building. We made a commitment to do it every year…We began organizing throughout the neighborhood.”

When the art crawl began extending beyond a couple buildings, the Saint Paul Arts Collective—the organization of artists and galleries in the city—took it on as an official project. The Collective decided to expand the event to twice a year: in October and April.

“We figured April would be early enough that we wouldn’t be competing against the events of the larger organizations in May,” says Gamble. “We didn’t want to have to compete…and we wanted to hold it after tax time to make it easier for people who may have been freelancing as bookkeepers and such. In the fall, our goal was to have the Crawl at a time when people might be starting to think about holiday shopping.”

Touted as a self-guided tour of the artists’ studios and homes in Lowertown and downtown St. Paul, the Art Crawl prides itself on being an artist-led project. Pen and ink artist Jason Jaglo set up a studio in the Jax Building in 1996. “I wanted to participate in the art crawl and join in the community of artists. When you work alone, you can feel really isolated.” Jaglo has worked in the Jax building, a former baggage manufacturing site, for more than ten years. He shares his 1400 square foot studio with anywhere from, two to four other artists.

Artists initially paid $15 to participate as a member of the Art Collective and the Crawl. Gamble believes the success of the event is due to the Collective’s grassroots efforts. The majority of the organizers were, and still are, volunteers. The organization makes it clear where dues go, so that artists know exactly what they’re investing in. Dues went toward paying for graphic design, printed materials, and distribution and media relations. Today, the rate is still only $30 for artists to participate in one Art Crawl and to be a member of the Art Collective for six months. Various grant funds help supplement the member dues. Three years ago, the Collective hired its first executive director, artist Robyn Priestley. Her position ranges from part-time to full-time, depending on the demands of the community.

The spring crawls usually attract larger attendance, because people look for ways to get outside after the long winter. Anywhere from 16,000 to 26,000 visitors attend during each season. According to Gamble, many art sales occur after the fact—people come to see the art and often return to make larger purchases. Jaglo agrees, “I sold a number of works in December, essentially after making the connections at the October Art Crawl. For larger pieces, that’s the way it goes. Smaller things sell differently. For this Crawl, I made press on tattoos – three for $1. We’ll see how that goes!”

Gamble notes, however, that “the Collective doesn’t emphasize sales. Our role is to educate the public about art.” The Collective has also partnered with Springboard for the Arts, a non-profit artist service organization, to offer artists’ workshops on topics such as how to engage people, how to answer questions, and how to price and display work.

As an event that is open to anyone, the Crawl makes it a priority to offer a shuttle between sites. From the beginning, says Gamble, “We wanted to accommodate as many people as possible, and sites like the Rossmor were further away. The shuttle helps satisfy ADA requirements; it allows a way to allow every kind of person to attend.”

St. Paul residents swear by the benefits of their Capital City, and artists feel the same way. “People want to live in St. Paul, says Gamble, “because it’s quieter and more affordable. The Art Crawl is a way to let the public come into [our artistic] community. We are all part of the same city.”

Betsy Mowry works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.