During the 1970s and early 1980s the Lowertown district of St. Paul was a neighborhood of empty parking lots and abandoned warehouses quickly falling into disrepair. The affordability of the warehouse spaces attracted artists, and Lowertown quickly became the center of the St. Paul art scene. In 1977 a contingent of Lowertown artists founded the St. Paul Art Collective with the mission of educating the public about Minnesota artists and encouraging new artwork. When it became clear the neighborhood was going to be developed the artists organized to protect spaces for artists to create and increas the awareness of the crucial role that artists play in the greater cultural life of the Twin Cities.

The origins of the art crawl dates back to 1977, when the Collective was formed to arrange shows and encourage the creation of new artwork by providing venues where work could be shared with the public. The founding artists of the St. Paul Art Collective organized their first group exhibition at the Union Depot with the hope these shows would help educate the public about Minnesota artists and their work. In the decade and a half that followed, the artists of the Collective continued to hold loosely organized group events in and around downtown St. Paul. From 1981 to 1985, the Collective also ran a critically acclaimed fine art gallery in Lowertown called the Wall Street Gallery.

As the tax laws made it possible for rehab to take place in the run down warehouses and the artists were given notice that their studios would be eliminated the Collective formed a housing committee to establish an artist owned coop studio/living space in Lowertown. The first project fell through as the bank that had agreed to participate backed out because they didn’t trust that the artists would be able to pay the debt. The committee reformed with Ann Marsden and David Evans as co-chairs, and Gus Gustafson participated as our collective conscience. With the participation of many artists over two years the committee formed the Lowertown Lofts Artist Coop, which opened in August 1985. Over three hundred artists applied to join the Coop, which only had 29 units. This overwhelming response encouraged Artspace to form the Northern Warehouse and eventually the Tilsner Artist Coop. These three buildings established a new artist community in Lowertown and this community continues to create new possibilities for social experience in St Paul.

Groundbreaking Social Project

The Saint Paul Art Crawl is one of those groundbreaking social projects that helped transform the way artists and the public could interact. In 1991, the Collective decided to coordinate a multiple building, weekend long, open studio event, and the Saint Paul Art Crawl was born. The five buildings that participated in the first Saint Paul Art Crawl were the Jax, 262 Studios, Lowertown Lofts Artist Cooperative, Tilsner Artists Cooperative, and the Northern Warehouse Artists Cooperative. Most of these original five buildings still house artist studios and participate in the semi-annual Art Crawl.

The St. Paul Art Collective has been hosting the Art Crawl ever since, with the number of participating artists approaching 400 and the number of visitors averaging around 20,000 for each three-day event. In the mid-2000s, artists along University and Grand Avenues as well as in the Eastside and Westside neighborhoods of Saint Paul began participating and the Art Crawl has grown to include more than 40 locations across the city. 

The Saint Paul Art Crawl showcases the diversity of art that Saint Paul has to offer. By nuturing a vibrant arts community, the Art Crawl inspires artistic growth and fosters a creative exchange of ideas.


Recognized for its tremendous success, the Saint Paul Art Crawl has become a model arts event that is still emulated in cities across the country. To the artists and residents of Saint Paul, the event means much more. The Art Crawl has evolved from a fun weekend art event to a framework for creating and fostering important, interdependent relationships between the arts community and the city of St. Paul. The Collective and its member artists receive a tremendous amount of support from residents, businesses and local government in order to stage an event of this magnitude, and in return they have given Saint Paul a close-knit, vibrant and energetic art community that actively contributes to the greater Twin Cities cultural landscape.