Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Sunday announced a $2.15 million investment in the city of St. Paul aimed at supporting the arts and boosting downtown business.

The largest portion of the funds, $1.5 million, is earmarked for the Minnesota Museum of American Art. It’s intended to help build out a permanent home for the museum, known as The M, inside downtown St. Paul’s historic Pioneer Endicott buildings.

Other investments announced Sunday aim to invigorate St. Paul’s business community, including $200,000 for the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance to support a downtown business improvement district. Another $100,000 goes to Saint Paul Public Library to support its Workforce Innovation Center, and the city is in line for $50,000 targeted to its Tech for All initiative to increase access to tech education and employment.

Jai Winston, the Miami-based Knight Foundation’s St. Paul program director, called for a “transformation” of Minnesota’s capital city into a “lively, engaging urban hub.”

“Building on palpable local momentum, these investments aim to inspire new energy and interest in downtown and beyond, making the city a more attractive place to live, work, play and stay,” Winston said in a statement.

The foundation’s St. Paul arts scene investments include $200,000 to support the Chroma Zone Mural and Art Festival. It runs through Sept. 14 in the city’s Creative Enterprise Zone, which centers on University Avenue between Prior Avenue and the Minneapolis border.

Another $100,000 goes to the Minnesota Opera to support the production of “The Song Poet,” a new opera written by Hmong-American author Kao Kalia Yang. It tells the story of her father’s immigration experience.

The big winner in this round of giving is The M, which has had 13 different homes since it was founded in 1894 as the St. Paul School of Fine Arts. It gained a foothold in the Pioneer Endicott in 2012, when it began hosting regular exhibitions in a small project space. After a two-year, $23 million renovation, it unveiled 20,000 square feet of galleries and offices last year and plans to add 16,000 square feet of space for its 4,500-piece collection by 2020.