St. Paul Arts Nonprofit Purchases First Home

The 27-year-old organization has always worked in the neighborhood where its new headquarters will be based, but — until now — has rented space elsewhere.

Artist rendering of the converted Springboard for the Arts building in St. Paul. (Credit: 4RM + ULA)

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Springboard for the Arts, which has spent the last 27 years promoting the role of art and artists in making vibrant cities, is buying its first permanent home, the St. Paul, Minn.–based nonprofit announced in a press release.

The $5.1 million project — including $1.5 million for the purchase of a former car dealership in St. Paul — will give Springboard a new headquarters along University Avenue, where the organization has been doing work for years. The building will also include an artist market and community and event space.

“We are excited to make this move because of the opportunity to increase access to Springboard’s growing resources, to hold space for neighborhood activity and community development and to find new ways to support artists making a living and a life,” Springboard Executive Director Laura Zabel said in a statement. “This opportunity is only possible because of the vital creative work and partnership of artists, neighbors and community organizations in Little Mekong, Frogtown, and Rondo and many others across the city and region.”

Springboard begins hosting workshops and markets in the space this month. Renovations start next year, and Springboard will move its offices by 2020.

Next City has previously reported on Springboard for the Arts’ earlier initiatives in “artist-driven development,” the idea that creative people are an essential part of building better communities. When University Avenue was torn up by construction of the city’s new light-rail line, for example, Springboard gave grants to local artists to encourage people to visit the businesses that remained open during the chaos. The organization has also held pop-ups to encourage people to think about their health differently, started a database that allows neighborhoods and businesses to rent artist-made, interactive tools, and developed national models for artist-driven development.

Springboard even once hosted a party in the parking lot of the building it just purchased.

“Ever since then, every time I drove by, I thought, ‘I love that space,’ ” Zabel told the Star-Tribune.

Springboard has rented space in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood since its inception, but when the nonprofit’s board voted to look for a permanent space, Zabel immediately thought of the car dealership at 262 University Avenue. It wasn’t for sale, until it was—Springboard had almost purchased a different building, and when that fell through, Zabel Googled “262 University Avenue” on a whim. There it was. The organization purchased first, planning to fundraise next.

Local architecture firm 4RM+ULA will do the work of converting the building into the space Zabel and the other Springboard staffers and supporters envision. That includes having the garage doors of the old dealership open into an artist’s market, and a rooftop event space with views of the State Capitol.

One thing Springboard is doing with the space that seems counterintuitive? Keeping the auto dealership’s parking lot. “You would be hard pressed to find an urban planner who would think it’s a good idea to put a 50-car parking lot here,” Zabel told the Star-Tribune. “But what if, accidentally, that preserved this open space?”

And in fact, in August, the parking lot will host the Little Mekong Night Market, a community event modeled on the night markets of Southeast Asia, going into its 5th year.

Springboard has also wasted no time in turning the building into an arts headquarters: It’s already put out an RFP for artists to decorate the building’s many windows.

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Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: arts and culturest. paul

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