Knight Foundation invests more than $2 million to make St. Paul’s downtown and arts scene more vibrant, inviting, inclusive

Contact: Lauren Dickinson, Communications Officer, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305.908.2694, [email protected]

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sept. 8, 2019 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $2.15 million in new investments focused on establishing downtown as a place for community, creativity and inclusive economic growth. The investments also include new funding for the city’s larger arts scene.

“It’s a time of transformation in St. Paul, as our city claims its place as a lively, engaging urban hub,” said Jai Winston, Knight Foundation director in St. Paul. “Downtown St. Paul is at the core of this change. 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.” 

Knight’s new downtown investments are: 

  • The Minnesota Museum of American Art ($1.5 million): To establish a permanent home for the Minnesota Museum of American Arts (the M) — downtown’s first and only art institution — in the Pioneer Endicott building, as part of an ongoing capital campaign. The M, which has had eight locations over the past 100 years, recently reopened in the historic building on Robert Street, introducing an important cultural amenity to the city’s downtown core. The M’s unique curatorial approach focuses on local, regional and community-oriented exhibitions that showcase the rich culture of Minnesota and all its diverse communities. The museum’s lobby is being renamed the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Lobby.
  • Saint Paul Downtown Alliance ($200,000): To engage private-sector partners in designing and creating a sustainable Business Improvement District in downtown St. Paul. Building on a Knight-supported pilot program in 2019, the St. Paul Downtown Alliance will collaborate with partners to drive policies and programs that create a positive downtown experience for workers, visitors and residents.
  • Saint Paul Public Library ($100,000): To advance the work of the Nicholson Workforce and Innovation Center at the George Latimer Central Library — which helps residents acquire technical skills and pursue career goals — by supporting public programming, staff training and new technology equipment.
  • City of St. Paul ($50,000): To support the City’s “Tech for All” initiative, which will accelerate Saint Paul’s economy by ensuring all residents have access to wealth-building job opportunities that are currently going unfilled, and making strategic investments in Saint Paul’s future workforce, youth of color and girls.

In addition, Knight investments in St. Paul’s larger arts scene will boost the city as a creative destination and elevate the voices of an unsung community. The arts investments are:

  • Creative Enterprise Zone ($200,000): To support the inaugural Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival, happening today through Sept. 14, 2019 in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone, helping the neighborhood become a recognized destination for creative enterprises, individuals and industries. 
  • The Minnesota Opera ($100,000): To create and produce a new opera for youth performers, The Song Poet, and foster meaningful relationships with the local Hmong community. The new opera is based on a memoir written by St. Paul author Kao Kalia Yang, highlighting her father’s experience immigrating to the United States.

“There is little else that can inspire human connection and community attachment like the arts,”  said Victoria Rogers, Knight Foundation vice president for arts. “These initiatives create meaningful avenues for St. Paul residents and visitors to experience the full breadth of the city’s culture and creativity.”

The M’s lobby, recently renamed for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Credit: Jeffrey Aguy. 

These commitments build on Knight’s $1 million investment in Springboard for the Arts, announced earlier this year, helping the organization establish a new location on the Green Line to create a local hub for artists and residents and develop new, innovative ways to engage people in the arts.

Knight’s newest funding in St. Paul was announced today at a community dinner for foundation partners, local grantees, staff and trustees, held at Rice Park. 

“St. Paul’s history is Knight’s history,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “The Pioneer Press, which has been an independent voice since 1927, was for years a key part of the Knight-Ridder newspaper group. When the Green Line was built, we were among those who assured it served center-city neighborhoods. And now we’re honored to help the art museum find a permanent downtown home.”

Support for these projects is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to foster more informed and engaged communities, as essential to a healthy democracy. Since 2000, Knight Foundation has invested more than $40 million in St. Paul. 

Learn more about this announcement in a blog post by Knight’s St. Paul Program Director Jai Winston. 

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): New front entrance to the M’s renovated museum facility, designed by VJAA. Credit: Photo by Pete Sieger, courtesy of Minnesota Museum of American Art.