St. Paul arts community receives $8 million boost from Knight Foundation

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ST. PAUL – (Jan. 29, 2014) – Building on the city’s vibrant cultural community, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $8 million in new funding for the arts in St. Paul.

Part of a two-pronged initiative to engage and enrich the city through the arts, the support will go to cultural organizations of all sizes in addition to individual artists living in or benefiting St. Paul.

At a reception tonight at the Minnesota History Center, Knight Foundation announced the details of the new initiative. It includes a $3.5 million commitment to five respected institutions that have helped the city earn its title as a thriving cultural capital, and a three-year, $4.5 million Knight Arts Challenge to fund the best arts ideas from the wider community.

The grants to the five institutions will make it financially feasible for emerging performance groups to perform at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, bring classical music to more people digitally, offer dance instruction to low-income students and more.

The Knight Arts Challenge, which opens for applications in April, is a community-wide contest to find and fund innovative ideas for the arts. Everyone is eligible for funding through the Knight Arts Challenge – individual artists, organizations and businesses, both nonprofit and for-profit. The contest has three simple rules: 1) The idea must be about the arts; 2) the project must take place in or benefit St. Paul; and 3) the grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

“As Knight’s national arts program has invested in the St. Paul’s arts scene, we’ve been impressed by this community’s level of artistic excellence and collaboration, and its ability to bring art to people and communities,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “By providing new funding, we seek to strengthen that work and promote additional grassroots programming and risk-taking—to keep the arts fresh, inspiring and engaging for audiences into the future.”

In response to the announcement of Knight’s investment, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman noted, “St. Paul is home to some of the most creative people and industries in the country, and is a city that values the arts community that makes it a cultural destination. Knight Foundation’s newest investments will help infuse our neighborhoods with art, and strengthen our city’s ability to attract and retain St. Paul’s next generation.”

About the institutional grants

Knight selected the institutions receiving grants for their commitment to artistic excellence and their willingness to experiment with ways to engage audiences, which can be a key challenge for many groups. The grantees are:

  • The Arts Partnership ($1 million) To bring emerging performing arts groups to new audiences by subsidizing their productions at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts;
  • Penumbra Theatre ($500,000) To engage new donors and audiences by creating two positions at one of the nation’s most esteemed African-American theater companies;
  • Springboard for the Arts ($500,000): To help communities better support individual artists by developing and sharing Springboard’s existing artist toolkits with similar organizations in seven cities across the country;
  • St. Paul Chamber Orchestra ($1 million) To expand its reach by increasing its robust digital programming on the Web and mobile devices;
  • TU Dance ($500,000) To diversify the local dance community by offering expanded classes and outreach programs to St. Paul’s diverse communities.

Complete descriptions for those grants are below.

About the Knight Arts Challenge

The Knight Arts Challenge will accept applications April 7 through May 5, 2014. St. Paul is the fourth city where Knight Foundation has offered such a challenge.

 “The challenge gives the community, the people with the innovative ideas, the opportunity to make them a reality,” said Polly Talen, St. Paul program director for Knight Foundation. “It’s an ideas contest. We’re looking for out-of-the box projects, and can’t wait to hear what St. Paul proposes in April.”  

Knight Foundation, which invests in 26 communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, has provided $64 million in support to the St. Paul community since 1977.

For more about the challenge, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit


Andrew Sherry, Vice President/Communications, 305-908-2677, [email protected]

Kathy Graves, Parenteau Graves, 612-242-3184, [email protected]

Project Descriptions

While the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is home to four premier arts organizations, including the Minnesota Opera, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Schubert Club and the Ordway itself, high production costs have made it difficult for emerging and mid-range community arts organizations to present at the center. In an effort to bridge this gap, The Arts Partnership will create the Cultural Opportunity Fund, a subsidy providing emerging arts organizations with the opportunity to present programming at a state-of-the-art, 1100-seat concert hall without taking a significant financial risk. The venue size will also afford participating organizations the opportunity to sell more tickets and reach new audiences.

Penumbra Theatre is the nation’s largest and one of the most esteemed African-American theater companies. It is implementing a five-year business plan that includes new artistic leadership and vision. Knight funding will support the organizational transition and enable the company to hire development and marketing directors to engage donors and audiences, thereby ensuring the theater’s viability.

Springboard for the Arts connects individual artists with the resources they need to thrive. Over the past few years, Springboard has developed a unique model for supporting artists and communities, and has shared some of its many programs on a national scale. For example, Community Supported Art, developed in partnership with, is similar to a Farm Share, where patrons buy a share that includes a box of locally produced art. The program is now in more than 50 cities across the country. With Knight funding, Springboard will share resource toolkits from its most successful programs–including those on arts entrepreneurship and health care–with seven other cities supported by Knight Foundation and creating a network to exchange resources and spotlight artists’ contributions to communities.

While many orchestras have struggled with audience declines, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has increased its audience dramatically over the past decade, an accomplishment it attributes to increased accessibility to its concerts and digital recordings. With previous Knight funding, the orchestra has reached more than 300,000 classical music lovers through its online Listening Library, 90 percent of whom are from outside Minnesota. With a new Digital Media Development Fund, the orchestra will accelerate its embrace of emerging digital technologies, providing new and enhanced ways to experience its music through Internet media.

Founded in 2004 by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater veterans Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, TU Dance is an emerging force in the arts community.  In its first decade of growth, TU Dance has garnered significant critical acclaim for performances and educational programming that celebrates the connective power of dance.  With Knight funding, TU Dance seeks to accelerate the growth of its diverse dance audience, and to engage new donors in supporting performance and educational programming.  The organization will expand its class offerings at TU Dance Center, responding to a 50 percent increase in enrollment last year.  Driven by its mission of access, TU Dance will also expand its capacity to offer need-based support for dance students, adding a professional staff member to grow its fundraising program.