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July 30, 2014

For Immediate Release
Mara Miller
(651) 523-6384

Saint Paul Art Collective and Yellow Tree Theatre Selected as

FY 2014 MRAC Arts Achievement Awards Recipients

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) Board of Directors has selected Saint Paul Art Collective and Yellow Tree Theatre to be this year's recipients of the MRAC Arts Achievement Award, which includes a cash payment of $5,000. The 27 nominations were reviewed by the MRAC Board of Directors based on how arts groups exemplify MRAC's vision for the region by:
  • Causing artists and arts activities to thrive, and/or
  • Integrating the arts into the social fabric and identity of a community(s), and/or
  • Enhancing understanding of the public value of the arts.

Saint Paul Art Collective


What do artists need in order to thrive? What makes a community vibrant? These are two questions that the Saint Paul Art Collective (SPAC) has been successfully working to answer since its beginnings in 1977. Starting with joint art exhibitions at the Union Depot and Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul that led to the opening of a critically acclaimed exhibition space, the Wall Street Gallery (1981-1985), the SPAC continually responds to the need for artists to have places and opportunities to live, work, and exhibit.


In the early 1980s, St. Paul's historic Lowertown neighborhood was in decline, filled with coal-darkened and vacant warehouses. At the same time, many artists had been forced out of their downtown studios due to rising rents. Drawn to Lowertown's affordability, SPAC worked alongside artists, developers, architects, and the City of St. Paul to convert the top three floors of a turn of the century warehouse into artist studios. In 1988 the Lowertown Lofts opened, the first artist cooperative in St. Paul. The SPAC subsequently helped open the Northern Warehouse Artists' Cooperative in 1990 and the Tilsner Artists' Cooperative in 1993, establishing St. Paul's Lowertown as an arts hub.


As the arts community and area began to thrive, SPAC recognized the need for a way that area artists could exhibit and share their work. With limited exhibit space in the neighborhood, SPAC developed what they are best known for, The St. Paul Art Crawl. Launched in 1991, the St. Paul Art Crawl is the longest running open studio and public art event in Minnesota. At current count, close to 300 artists participate and as many as 30,000 people come to the area to see artist studios, buy work, and have meaningful interactions with the artists--underscoring SPAC's long term goal of fostering connections between artists and the public, and demonstrating the valuable role that artists and the arts play in the cultural life of the Twin Cities.


Continuing in this mission, SPAC started Lowertown First Fridays in 2010--a monthly, smaller version of the Art Crawl that gives the public a more intimate chance to interact with area artists. And in 2013, the SPAC was awarded one of the first Bush Foundation Community Innovation grants to conduct feasibility studies that will look at creating a community/arts center in Lowertown and having the area officially designated as a St. Paul Arts District.


After receiving MRAC's Arts Achievement Award, Tom Dunn speaking for SPAC said,


"The Saint Paul Art Collective is honored MRAC has chosen our organization to be a recipient of this award. It will help us continue our mission of expanding connections and inspirational spaces for artists. We are at a pivotal point in our 37-year history with a lot of changes taking place in Lowertown with the launch of the Green Line, redevelopment of the Union Depot, and the addition of a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints. These funds will help us continue to grow and support Art Collective artists and the thriving art community in St. Paul as we adapt to and embrace these changes."



Yellow Tree Theatre


Yellow Tree Theatre, an unexpected theatre in an unexpected place, started by embracing their community. Their community embraced back. The community is Osseo. More small town than suburb, Osseo is home to about 2,400 people (neighbors, really) in the northwest corner of Hennepin County where there isn't a lot of opportunity to see live theatre nearby. The theatre is in a strip mall on the main highway as you come into town. The unexpected happens the minute you walk in the door. There is a wine bar and a lit tree in the lobby. The atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming. There is an air of anticipation as you enter the theater where you can expect high-quality, professional theater. "It's fun to surprise people," says Co-Founder Jessica Lind Peterson.


Founders Jessica Lind and Jason Peterson knew from the beginning that in order to become a true part of their community's fabric, they needed to get involved. They participated in community parades, chatted with folks at area arts shows, created partnerships with area businesses, drank beers with the locals at the American Legion and spoke at the Osseo Lion's Club, Maple Grove BNI, and other community organizations. They got to know their neighbors. And their neighbors got to know them. This year alone, more than 150 volunteers have worked for Yellow Tree and more than 60 businesses contributed to their annual gala event. In just six years, season ticket subscribers went from 60 to 900 and they have served more than 32,000 attendees at their performances. Many of their patrons did not consider themselves regular theatergoers before Yellow Tree opened.


Just as Yellow Tree Theatre is committed to their community, they are also committed to providing high-quality, professional theater and supporting local artists. They take pride in challenging themselves and their audiences artistically and bringing stories to life that ignite passion, inspire laughter and explore the great complexities of the human spirit. Yellow Tree has produced six seasons of work, 29 main stage theatre productions, six of which were world premieres and seven of which were original works by local playwrights. This includes the creation of a new musical, "Stay Tuned," which made the cover of Minnesota Monthly's Arts section and inspired the creators, Blake Thomas and Mary Fox, to move to Duluth and start their own live radio show. Yellow Tree has also provided performance space for area arts groups and has an art gallery where local artists are featured on a rotating basis. In addition, for the past two summers, Yellow Tree has given 50 high school students the opportunity to work alongside professional theater artists in the creation of their own musical cabaret, and is currently working with a local dance studio to create another exciting program for area youth.


After receiving the award, Co-Founder Jessica Lind Peterson said,


"Being recognized by MRAC as the recipient of the Arts Achievement Award is an incredible honor for us. Yellow Tree has received immeasurable support from MRAC over the six years we have existed as an organization in the form of many grants, direct support from MRAC staff, and educational workshops. We owe much of our early success to the support we have received through MRAC and this award is truly significant in that it affirms we are making strides as an organization and are enriching our community in the Northwest suburbs through our mission. We are very deeply honored to be recognized by an organization that works passionately and tirelessly to support the arts."


MRAC is pleased to honor these arts organizations as representatives of MRAC's mission and looks forward to continuing the MRAC Arts Achievement Award as a way of recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of small arts organizations (organizations with annual operating budgets less than $400,000) in the 7-county metropolitan region as exemplified by the many high-quality nominations MRAC received.


The awards were presented at MRAC's annual meeting on July 22, 2014. Photos of the groups receiving their awards are available. Please contact Mara Miller at mara@mrac.org if you would like copies of the photos or more information about the MRAC Arts Achievement Award.


About the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council


The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council increases access to the arts in 7-county metropolitan area communities (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties) by providing information, organizational support and grants to arts organizations with annualized operating expenses less than $400,000.

In FY 2014, MRAC received 814 applications and awarded 451 grants totaling $3,175,902 to arts organizations and/or projects including a $220,000 grant to VSA Minnesota for its re-granting program, the ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations. These grants were funded by an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State's general fund, and by the voters of Minnesota, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. MRAC also received 340 applications from individual artists in the Next Step Fund program and awarded 38 grants totaling $182,586 with funds from The McKnight Foundation. MRAC also provided 23 arts management training sessions and 30 grant application workshops.
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