Knight Foundation invests $2.2 million in seven creative organizations in St. Paul

The funding will help bring Playwrights’ Center to St. Paul and support new work, diverse artists and civic engagement.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — (Dec. 17, 2020) — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $1.5 million investment to help in the relocation of the prestigious Playwrights’ Center from Minneapolis to St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone. The commitment is part of a $2.2 million package that includes six other local arts organizations working to build a vibrant and resilient St. Paul arts sector.   

The organizations — The Playwrights’ Center, Penumbra Theatre Company, FilmNorth, Victoria Theater Arts Center, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Public Art Saint Paul and Mixed Blood Theatre Company — are working to establish a creative corridor along the Green Line as a vibrant hub for community and creativity. The Playwright’s Center will relocate to a renovated 150-seat theater that will provide performance and office space in their quest to support budding playwrights in St. Paul.

By investing in seven prominent arts institutions, Knight is supporting the creation of new works and helping these organizations continue to develop and innovate during the pandemic and beyond

“Considering that the arts are centered on human interactions, artists have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic — physical distancing, closures and other economic limitations,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight’s vice president for arts. “With Knight’s new round of investments in the city we’re excited to help these innovators lead the way in reaching new audiences, connecting people to each other and to place.”

This year has also seen meaningful conversations on equity and racial justice after the killing of George Floyd in neighboring Minneapolis. As such, Knight’s investments will also fund programs and strategies that promote diversity and inclusivity.

“These organizations are either producing new works of art or supporting artists to do so, and keeping St. Paul’s communities connected in the process,” said Priya Sircar, Knight’s arts program director. “Ensuring that all members of such a diverse community like St. Paul are able to participate meaningfully and find expression through the arts is essential in creating an equitable city.”

The organizations and projects receiving funding are:

  • The Playwrights’ Center ($1,500,000): To enable the Playwrights’ Center to relocate to St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone and expand its programming to support the next generation of playwrights. Knight’s funding will allow the center, currently located in Minneapolis, to purchase and renovate a facility in St. Paul to house its operations. The new facility will include a 150-sear multi-use theater, rehearsal spaces, tech-enabled classrooms, an art-filled community gathering space, and apartments for artists. The Playwrights’ Center will also use Knight’s funding to expand its programming to serve a greater breadth and diversity of artists and engage the  St. Paul residents in the play development process. Furthermore, the investment will include Healthcare and Living stipends for artists and an expansion of the center’s University Partnerships Programs, which connects undergraduate students across the U.S. to working, professional playwrights.
  • Penumbra Theatre Company ($200,000): To support the development and production of new work at St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre. Knight’s investment will support Ashe Lab, Penumbra’s residency program for emerging Black artists, and the development of a repertory festival. The funding will also support the commissioning of new theatre works by distinguished Black playwrights from Knight cities.
  • FilmNorth ($200,000): To support the expansion of new programming to train storytellers from underrepresented communities in St. Paul in filmmaking. FilmNorth, which has national recognition and a 33-year history of supporting St. Paul artists, manages programs that include fiscal sponsorships for fundraising, professional development, exhibitions, screenings and providing access to equipment for filmmakers. Knight’s new investment will allow the organization to expand such programs and their reach, making the arts more accessible to all communities in St. Paul.
  • Victoria Theater Arts Center ($100,000): To provide operating support to enable professional development, strategic consulting and program development as the center works to revitalize a historic St. Paul theater into a community arts center. Funding will support Victoria Theater Art Center’s organizational development and help them to develop high-quality arts programming, create an Opportunity Fund for new programs and collaborations in the community, and support its BIPOC Advisory Council.
  • Ordway Center for the Performing Arts ($97,000): To support the pilot year of a musical theater training program for emerging artists of color in St. Paul. The funding will allow the Ordway to hire mentors and teaching artists, create lesson plans and recruit an inaugural cohort of emerging artists. The program will culminate in a final showcase.
  • Public Art Saint Paul ($75,000): To provide planning support for executing the inaugural Saint Paul-Minneapolis Triennial Art Festival in 2023. Funding will support curators as they meet with and select festival artists and projects, meet with partner organizations and artists to identify festival sites, support consultants to work with the project team on development and communications infrastructure, and support the graphic design element of the festival.
  • Mixed Blood Theatre Company ($50,000): To support the development and production of two new works of experimental theater in Green Line neighborhoods that will foster civic engagement. EXILED IN AMERICA explores the complexities of our nation’s housing crisis and workshops will use art-based strategies to explore current barriers and policies, while the resulting performance will imagine creative solutions. ANIMATIONis a site-specific theatrical experience for all-ages that will reveal the role of zoos as bastions of conservation, species preservation, and education.

Since 2000, Knight has committed over $40 million in St. Paul. Knight’s investments include the development of the Green Line through the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, and the Knight Arts Challenge which ran annually from 2014-2017 and awarded over $4.8 million to seed artistic development throughout St. Paul, including neighborhoods surrounding the Green Line. The arts program aims to  support artists, organizations and projects that reflect St. Paul’s rich diversity. Its investments include The Creative Enterprise Zone’s Chroma Zone Mural and Art Festival, which supports the neighborhood’s goal of becoming a recognized destination for creative enterprises, individuals, and industries; Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio’s Latino Art Gallery, the first non-commercial Latino-focused gallery in Minnesota; and Minnesota Opera’s production of The Song Poet based on the memoir written by local author Kao Kalia Yang. 

For interviews, please contact Alexa Lamanna at [email protected] or 202-320-2766.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

Image (top) by Deacon Warner. A student shoots b-roll for the short documentary “Always the Knew Kid”, as part of Objects of Home, a FilmNorth documentary filmmaking residency at Gordon Parks High School in St Paul.