Springboard for the Arts revved for opening of new home at former used car dealership on University

Kathy Berdan | September 27, 2021 at 4:22 p.m. Saint Paul Pioneer Press Parked on University Avenue just a couple of blocks west of the Capitol, Springboard for the Arts’ new home is ready to open with a celebration this week. Springboard was located in Lowertown St. Paul for almost 30 years and began its drive to […]
On September 28, 2021

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Parked on University Avenue just a couple of blocks west of the Capitol, Springboard for the Arts’ new home is ready to open with a celebration this week.

Springboard was located in Lowertown St. Paul for almost 30 years and began its drive to move to the new location nearly a decade ago. The arts organization got interested in the building, which once housed Saxon Ford, when it was looking for a site for an artist project along the Green Line. The vacant parking lot was appealing.

“That was the first glimmer there was something of value to this place,” Springboard’s executive director Laura Zabel said early last week. The $5.25 million project was completed this year.

The cracked asphalt parking lot at 262 University Ave. is now smoothly paved and bordered by a wide greenspace and colorful murals. At one corner there’s a grain silo-like tank that holds rainwater from the roof to keep that greenspace green. The squat concrete brick car dealership building has a lively green two-story addition on the west side. Zabel calls it a model for reusing “unloved and untended spaces.”

Originally called Resources and Counselling for the Arts when it started as part of United Arts in the late 1970s, Springboard was created to support and connect artists and arts organizations and help them build their business skills.

Springboard acquired the defunct car dealership in 2018, but before designing the remodel, the organization invited groups in to use the building to help decide what the community needed, Zabel says. More than 200 groups and 6,000 people used the building for two years as it was. Springboard learned there was a need for gathering spaces and shared workspaces. There’s an artist resource lab – an equipment library with tools and gear that artists can use – on the second floor of the building.

“We want people to have ownership of this space,” Zabel says.

Art wraps the building, dangles from the ceilings inside, frosts glass on conference room windows and encloses a balcony overlooking the former garage area of the car dealership. Art and artists are at the core of Springboard’s work, but the new building expands its mission and ability to connect with the community, Zabel says. St. Paul’s Frogtown, Little Mekong and Rondo neighborhoods are nearby.

The outdoor green space and parking lot have been used this summer for “Saturdays at Springboard” events with poetry, dancing and music. The building will have regular open hours after pandemic restrictions end, says Carl Atiya Swanson, Springboard’s associate director, operations and communications.

The garage area of the car dealership is an open space, with one theater production already scheduled there for October. The tall garage doors on the east and west sides offer an added open-air benefit during COVID precautions, Zabel says.

A rooftop terrace is shaded by a solar panel trellis, which is expected to eventually supply 30 percent of Springboard’s energy needs, Swanson says. And the terrace has a great view of the Capitol dome, church spires, the Green Line and activity up and down University.

The fake ceiling in the car showroom was removed to reveal ductwork and create an airy space above the first floor, doubling the space of the room, Swanson says.

Artist projects

When an organization has “Arts” in its name, its new home should have plenty of art. And Springboard does. Here’s a look at some of the art at 262 University:

  • Native Presence, 2021 – Portraits of Native Minnesotans from throughout the state by Nedahness Rose Greene (Leech Lake Nation) are displayed in garage door windows on the building’s west side
  • Window art – A floral mural on window film around the “showroom” windows at the former car dealership was created by Sarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe) and Holly Young (Dakota).
  • Water cistern mural – The mural by Aleksandra Gurneau is part of the installation “Refraction,” by Ua Si Creative. The water tank holds rooftop rainwater that is used on Springboard’s greenspace.
  • Creative People Power, 2021 – A mural along the back side of the Springboard parking lot features paint on steel by Discover Dope (Myc Batson and Megan Tate).
  • DJ Booth, 2021 – Third Daughter, Restless Daughter (Wone and Youa Vang) created a cross-stitch installation with macrame cord on steel for the DJ booth that looks out over the garage area.
  • Tom’s Adventure, 2021 – Artist Blayze Buseth created the polished concrete sculptures on the rooftop terrace. “Tom’s Adventure” is described as “a symbolic interpretation of the rain cycle. The water flowing, at first contained in the cloud, is passed downward. The water pours into the receptive vessel and spills over.”


Springboard’s opening celebration will be virtual on Oct. 1 and in-person at the new location, 262 University Ave., St. Paul.

Oct. 1, 3-4 p.m.

  • Virtual tour of the building
  • Public art features
  • Water Walk with Sharon M. Day, produced by Ua Si Creative
  • Poems from Hawona Sullivan Janzen

Oct. 2, 1-5 p.m.

  • Performances from Lady Midnight, Yevrah, Alicia Thao, Heart and Soul Drum Academy
  • Tunes from DJ Miss Brit
  • Poems from Hawona Sullivan Janzen
  • Community painting with Geno Okok
  • Robot dancefloor with Nick Knutson
  • Song production with Rich Lee
  • Artist Career Consultants and headshot station
  • Timed tours of the building
  • Special remarks
  • Snacks and treats from K’s Revolutionary Catering, Marc Heu Patisserie, and Spinning Wylde

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