St. Paul arts scene gets $8M lift from Knight Foundation
Emma Smith, Ordway & Liz Byron, Aisle Say Twin Cities 2/3/14
The arts in St. Paul are $8 million richer.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Wednesday announced grants of $8 million to “engage and enrich the city of St. Paul through the arts.”
Part of the money — $3.5 million — will be distributed over five years to five “anchor arts institutions”: Penumbra Theatre, Springboard for the Arts, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, TU Dance and the Arts Partnership (Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Minnesota Opera, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Schubert Club).
The remaining grant money is part of a three-year, $4.5 million Knight Arts Challenge, a community-wide contest looking to find and fund innovative arts ideas. The Arts Challenge is open to everyone from independent artists and artist collectives to businesses.
There will be three separate Arts Challenge contests held over the next three years, with the first application period April 7 to May 5.
“The thing I see in St. Paul that I don’t see as much in other communities is a real sense of collaboration,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president of art for the Knight Foundation. “I don’t know what that’s from. Maybe it’s from the winter where everybody has to work together to survive. It is truly one of the most collaborative communities that I work in.
“We think the contest will provide opportunities to bring talent together, give people a sense of place and provide a lot of opportunities for people who have always had a great art idea and say, ‘But if I only had a little bit of this, or a little bit of that,’ ” Scholl said. “We want to provide fuel for the organic momentum in the arts that we see in St. Paul.”
The Miami-based Knight Foundation was formed by John and James Knight, brothers and newspaper publishers whose Knight-Ridder corporation formerly owned the Pioneer Press.
There are three rules to follow when submitting an application, which can’t exceed 150 words, for Arts Challenge funds:
— The idea must be about art.
— It must take place in or benefit St. Paul.
— If chosen, matching funds must be found to match the grant amount.
Finalists will most likely be announced this summer and winners revealed in the fall, Scholl said,
He said the contest has been successful in other cities, including Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia.
Ideas that have received funding in those cities included an art book publishing company; an ice cream truck that plays classical music; a Secret Society for Twisted Storytellers, where people tell their true stories; guitar-making from reclaimed lumber from abandoned buildings; and a multimedia installation connecting art and social justice.
“I think it’s a great recognition of St. Paul and the creative spirit that’s here regardless of size of organization or infrastructure,” said Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts.
“There are wonderful individual artists and there are really great artists working in neighborhoods and communities and we also have great cultural institutions, so I think just the recognition of it feels important and special.
“I think that these grants and the Challenge will be a real shot in the arm — a sort of infusion of energy for the community,” Zabel said.
Arts Challenge ideas are unknown, but the five institutions receiving the $3.5 million in Knight funds have concrete plans for their grants. A glance at the projects:
The Arts Partnership will receive $1 million to subsidize performances in the new Ordway concert hall by emerging performing arts group.
“It will increase the opportunity for audiences in St. Paul and the metro to see a wider variety of artists and arts organizations than would have otherwise been possible,” said Patricia A. Mitchell, president and CEO of the Ordway.
“Every time there’s a concert, there are 1,100 people coming here and dining here and paying the baby-sitter. The more performance activity there is, the more economic benefit there is for the city as a whole.”
Penumbra Theatre will receive $500,000 to create two positions — a marketing director and development director. Both were cut from the theater in 2012.
“This request was the first test of our recovery, of our business plan, of my vision,” said Sarah Bellamy, Penumbra’s co-artistic director.
“Knight asked challenging and thoughtful questions. This award is testimony to their faith in our work, our mission, and our future. It is inspiring, not only for Penumbra but for the larger community. We are very grateful for their leadership, for taking such a bold and public position with Penumbra. It is a strong incentive to succeed.”
Springboard for the Arts will receive $500,000 to share the work the artist-advocacy organization develops with communities across the country.
“The support from Knight is catalytic for us as an organization,” Zabel said. “The ability to be able to commit to this work for the next five years is so rare in nonprofits — to have that kind of extended timeline and know that we can do this in a deep and meaningful way. Knight has made that possible. The support that Knight provides outside of the money has also been hugely important for us an organization.”
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will receive $1 million to expand its reach with digital programming on the Internet and mobile devices.
“What’s extraordinary about it is the forward-thinking way in which the foundation is helping us do research and development in technology,” said Bruce Coppock, president and CEO of the SPCO. “It’s so rare that in the not-for-profit sector that we have a little bit of money to play with for research and development where we can intentionally try new things and stop them if they don’t work and capitalize on them and develop them further if they do work. It’s very exciting.”
TU Dance will receive $500,000 to expand class offerings and community outreach programs and add a fundraiser and development position.
“For us, the thing it really signifies is we have the confidence of the granting community and the public at large who are really in support of the vision we have here for TU Dance and for dance here in St. Paul, particularly, and the Twin Cities greater community,” said Uri Sands, who founded TU Dance in 2004 with his wife, Toni Pierce-Sands. “It’s a very big deal for us to have their support.”
See the full Pioneer Press article here.
TU Dance will perform a special 10th anniversary dance concert May 10 at 7:30pm at the Ordway.