The artsy girl next door

The St. Paul arts community tears the spotlight from Minneapolis and shines it on the 31st St. Paul Art Crawl.

The artsy girl next door

by Carter Haaland


What: St. Paul Art Crawl

When: April 29-May 1

Where: Various studios in Lowertown and Downtown St. Paul

Cost: Free

As the Minneapolis art community basks in the glory of its glimmering scene, its twin sister is often left lurking outside of general conversation. This weekend the St. Paul art community will creep out from the shadow of its younger, more celebrated sibling and once again assert itself as an old and wily but still thriving scene.

âÄúWeâÄôve been here longer. This is our 31st art crawl. ItâÄôs one of the oldest in the country,âÄù said Robyn Priestley, executive director of the St. Paul Art Collective.

The St. Paul Art Crawl is a free, three-day festival with doors swung wide open, inviting the public to 27 buildings and additional galleries harboring the work of more than 350 artists. Walls upon walls will be filled with artwork of all kinds. Performances, poetry, music âÄîSt. Paul certainly interprets âÄúartâÄù as a refreshingly broad and intriguingly flexible term.

Portland native Cecilia Henle will be contributing her work to the affair, and her paintings promise to bring a fresh, eclectic flare.

âÄúIâÄôm not one of those artists who does the same thing over and over again,âÄù Henle said.

HenleâÄôs work ranges from pastel pieces influenced by primitive art and cave markings to a line of realistic watercolor pieces. She used pieces of art paper that were handmade by the Otomi Indians, a source of inspiration for her.

Henle will be exhibiting her work on the second floor of the Tilsner Artist Coop, which is also her home. SheâÄôs a part of the innovative housing initiative that distinguishes St. Paul from its twin and other cities across the country.

âÄúThe difference is that the people live in these spaces. ItâÄôs a different atmosphere,âÄù Priestley said.

The Tilsner is just one of the several live-in artist studios that line Lowertown St. Paul. In the mid-âÄô80s, more than 200 local artists were on the brink of eviction when real estate developers began to draw up plans that would turn their warehouse space into condos.

The newly formed St. Paul Art Collective rallied overwhelming support and started Lowertown Lofts Artists Cooperative, the first of its kind. The housing initiative provides affordable, live-in studios for dedicated artists. This allows struggling artists to avoid making two separate rent payments, while assuring the longevity of their stay.

âÄúOur goal was to start a trend that put artists in a position where they would not lose their homes the next time somebody decided to sell a building or make some money,âÄù said Marla Gamble, a founding resident of the original Lowertown Co-op and treasurer of the St. Paul Art Collective.

Ten years after its conception, members purchased the Lowertown Co-op building, giving them full ownership and control of their art-laden abodes.

âÄúItâÄôs a way that artists can be invested in what they do and control it without having to come up with $100,000,âÄù Gamble said.

Staying true to the grassroots appeal, the artists take the reins and do all the planning of the art crawl.

âÄúItâÄôs very much run by the artists,âÄù Priestley said. âÄúTheyâÄôre the ones who participate and do all the work. They make all the decisions.âÄù

It seems fitting that the artists create the event themselves. Once the art crawl hoopla passes and the streets are swept, there will remain a tightly woven artistic community that has a humble charm and a steady beating heart.