Saint Paul Pioneer Press
Frederick Melo |
When Chris Larson and Kriss Zulkosky say St. Paul’s East Side has all the key ingredients to be the next epicenter of the city’s arts scene, the husband-and-wife arts patrons aren’t exactly being tongue in cheek.
In fact, the couple is all in.
Larson, a multi-media artist and fifth-generation East-Sider, and Zulkosky, a registered nurse, took out a second mortgage on their home and bought a former linoleum store on Payne Avenue for $50,000.
To launch the Second Shift Studio Space of St. Paul at 1128 Payne Ave. as artist-in-residence studios — and to ignite a nascent arts movement within some of the city’s more working class corners, at the very time artists are being displaced from pricier corners of the city.
Their open house is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“Payne Avenue is such an incredible street,” said Larson, an associate art professor at the University of Minnesota. “(It’s) maybe the most diverse and independently-owned in the Twin Cities.”
Dimitri Hatzigeorgiou is of the same mind. Hatzigeorgiou, a former Starbucks executive who brought the coffee chain to Greece and Cyprus, has turned a former furniture store into “Art @ 967 Payne,” two levels of art galleries, studios and artist co-working space.
He currently maintains five artists in residence there, with a sixth to come, charging them $1 to $1.15 per square foot of work space, well below what renters can expect to find in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood or other warehouse districts.
ALL-AGES MUSIC VENUE
Music is also on tap. Hatzigeorgiou said the basement of the old Swedish Bank at 965 Payne, which he purchased with his brother, will become an all-ages music venue run by Twin Cities Catalyst Music, the nonprofit that runs The Garage teen venue in Burnsville.
Also in the works is the Jon Oulman Gallery at 1106 Payne Ave., a new gallery founded by the co-owner of downtown St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar and Hall and the 311 Club in Minneapolis. The gallery will be situated next door to Oulman’s new wine bar, Cafe Lilla.
Then there are the myriad art happenings at Caydence Records and Coffee at 900 Payne Ave., another structure owned by Hatzigeorgiou. Caydence will host the “First Things First” multi-media music and arts series from Sept. 5 through Sept. 26, with live performances and special events scheduled each Thursday night.
So why so much focus on the arts?
For Hatzigeorgiou, it stems from his New York City upbringing.
“I lived in Queens and Astoria, and we have several streets like Payne which suffered blight and business closures in the ’70s, and made a wonderful resurgence,” Hatzigeorgiou said. “Seeing how critical arts have been to help neighborhoods that have struggled, the hope is to create more jobs.”
Former 3M executive Stephan Kistler has shown off his black and white photographs of the neighborhood — “Transitions: Payne Avenue – Portrait of a Community” — in the lobby gallery of the East Side Arts Council, a longstanding nonprofit at 977 Payne Ave, among other locations.
In the greater area, 11 Wells Spirits and the St. Paul Brewing Company also participated in the St. Paul Art Crawl this past April by posting works from local artists on their walls inside the old Hamm’s Brewing campus.
At 797 East Seventh St., the nonprofit Latino agency known as CLUES — or Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio — has created a sizable gallery space organized around the theme “La Cultura Cura,” or “Culture Heals.”
SECOND SHIFT OPEN HOUSE
Larson and Zulkosky’s Second Shift Studio Space of St. Paul will debut the works of four female artists during its inaugural open house from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7, throwing down a gauntlet of sorts to anyone who would question whether one of St. Paul’s low-to-middle income, immigrant-rich small business corridors can also double as an oasis for the visual arts.
The artist-in-residence program began in June, with the four artists chosen from 97 applications to receive free work space for a year and $5,000 a piece toward art materials.
The four $5,000 stipends are funded by the Con D’or Artist Fund, which was established in memory of Husker Du drummer Grant Hart, who died in 2017.
The city of St. Paul more recently approved a Cultural Star Grant for $17,500, which will also help reimburse some expenses for what’s been a largely donor-drive enterprise.
The artists — K.B. Lor, Jovan Speller, Heather Lamanno and Angela St. Vrain — are all at various stages in their art careers, and each woman brings a distinctly different discipline and perspective to the studio.
“This is definitely a very unique type of residency,” said St. Vrain, a full-time landscaper and winter snow-plower. “I’ve done other types of residencies, but a lot of those programs are internships where you work for them full-time, and in return you receive space and facilities. This is different. You live your normal life, working your day job, and you come to Second Shift to make your art separate from your work life.”
St. Vrain, a former intern-fellow at the Franconia Sculpture Park, specializes in elaborate sculptures intended to evoke images of a rustic home life, often using a combination of found and store-bought wood. Her new works, entitled “Neighbors,” will be featured in the storefront windows.
“With this work, it’s not so architectural,” she said. “It involves fencing — chain-link and wooden privacy fencing — but it evokes the same themes of home life and your connection to home.”
Lor, who works in quality assurance for a technology firm by day, had devoted the living room of her East Side home to her watercolors and colored pencil drawings at night, most of them portraits of Hmong women at various stages of their journey to America.
She has taught painting and drawing to Hmong women, most of them in their 30s and 40s, through various community programs for the past three years, and she sees art as a form of healing for historical traumas stretching back to the Vietnam War and civil war in Laos.
Eager to take her work to the next level, Lor hunted for art studio space but found rents ranging from $400 to $1,200 unrealistic given her limited sales experience. She called the Second Shift residency an ideal match.
“I wanted to go at my own pace, and have a place to go to to just paint,” Lor said.
Speller, whose works include photos of black Americans and former plantation sites altered into multi-media pieces, has curated art exhibitions from Washington, D.C., to Rochester, Minn. She served as a project manager for large-scale public art commissions for corporations and government bodies across D.C.
Lamanno, whose works are the most abstract of the four, uses acrylics to create geometric images on canvas, panels and fine paper, each one representing her past, present and future as translated into architectural forms.
STRUGGLES WITH THE CITY
If bringing the arts to a business corridor sounds like a cakewalk, guess again.
Even the husband-and-wife arts benefactors behind Second Shift admit they’ve struggled at times. Former City Council Member Dan Bostrom and Council Member Jane Prince were supportive of their idea, but a laundry list of zoning and code regulations proved tricky to navigate.
The biggest challenges to date? First came the ceiling-high remnants of a 75-year-old linoleum store — including seemingly ancient packages marked “new” asbestos.
To renovate the space, they filled 25 pick-up trucks and four dumpsters, and engaged a small army of volunteers, many of them local artists.
At the same time, the couple spent months convincing the city to allow them to open an art gallery — which is technically considered an event space under St. Paul’s zoning code — without adding new parking.
“We purchased the building in October of 2017 and we were able to start renovations in February of 2019, mostly held up by trying to get approval of the city,” Zulkosky said. “We had a lot of help from city council members, including the retired Dan Bostrom, and Jane Prince, who were vital in helping to resolve the technicalities of the building restrictions.”
In the end, they got around the legal issues by keeping the zoning that of a commercial storefront. The artists, after all, plan to sell their works.
“It took so long to convince (the city) it’s not a ‘gallery,’” said Larson, as he led a brief tour around a space that has all the trappings of a small art gallery.