Midsummer Happening celebrates new murals in the Zone.

Despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19, Saint Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) has expanded its presence and impact over the last 18 months in the city’s West Midway neighborhood.

“We increased capacity and output in our two key program areas—community-led real estate development and established public spaces,” said CEZ founder and board chair emeritus Catherine Reid Day.

The CEZ instituted a 100 Trees Initiative to provide additional greenery and shade in the former industrial district. And, after a one-year hiatus, the Chroma Zone Mural and Art Festival is back with 10 new works by muralists, including Peyton Scott Russell of Minneapolis and Marlena Myles of Saint Paul. Tours of the new murals will be part of CEZ’s Midsummer Happening scheduled for 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, July 24.

The nonprofit CEZ got its start 12 years ago when Reid Day, a Macalester-Groveland resident, began promoting the industrial area on either side of University Avenue between Prior Avenue and the west city limits as a place where creative people could establish new enterprises in affordable spaces.

Since then, “the CEZ has attracted creative, entrepreneurial and purpose-centered people to our gritty and active area,” Reid Day said. “We now have a mix of industrial, retail and entertainment establishments, a large concentration of breweries, plus dance, drumming, theater, film, music and more. The Playwrights’ Center recognized the character of our community when they decided to make their new home here.”

Creative Enterprize Zone
Creative Enterprise Zone chair emerita Catherine Reid Day is flanked by CEZ executive director Angela Casselton and artist Thomasina Topbear near the intersection of Hampden Avenue and Territorial Road where Topbear is working on a mural dedicated to Grandmother Earth. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Over the past few months, the CEZ has undergone a change in leadership. “We have a new board chair, Renee Spillum, who lives in Midway and works for Seward Redesign,” Reid Day said. “We have two paid consultants, including executive director Angela Casselton. She joined us in 2019 to secure sponsors for our first Chroma Zone festival, and we were so impressed we asked her to stay on.”

“Like many organizations, we had had a great deal of momentum and ambition in 2020,” Casselton said. “Things were really going well. We were building off of 2019, and then everything shut down.”

Chroma Zone was the first mural festival in Minnesota with artists of local, national and even international renown. But with COVID-19, Casselton said, “we were forced to postpone the 2020 Chroma Zone, release our partners and funders from their commitments, and watch as contracts for our commercial real estate services dried up.”

Last summer “we decided to use the support from two funders to employ local artists and vendors affected by the shutdown in the creation of six more outdoor murals,” Casselton said. “We held a socially distanced outside open house in October, and we continued to promote self-guided, socially distanced tours of the murals, which now number over 24.”

“The murals and public spaces are absolutely integral to our social justice and equity work,” Reid Day said. “We create space and connectivity for people to communicate and get to know each other. We encourage people to make things and to find their way to being successful by making those things here. Our district is a major job center for Saint Paul, and many of our businesses are growing.”

In January 2021, with a STAR grant from the city, the CEZ launched its first round of allocations, offering $100,000 in grants and $60,000 in loans to small businesses, nonprofits and commercial property owners for capital improvements in the CEZ. “We’re proud to have funded 10 women-owned or women-led businesses, three of which are also owned or led (by people of color),” Casselton said. “We hope to continue this program into 2022 with the support of the city.”

The CEZ works with landlords to prevent the displacement of businesses and maintain the affordability of spaces, according to Casselton. “We’re also seeking opportunities to expand community ownership through an investment cooperative as a long-term anti-displacement strategy,” she said.

The CEZ partnered with the Saint Anthony Park Community Council and Transition Town on the 100 Trees Initiative, a program directed by Ben Shardlow of Merriam Park, the director of urban design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Bare-root trees planted in gravel-bed nurseries in the spring will be transplanted this fall throughout the CEZ with the support of local sponsors. Among the businesses hosting the gravel-bed nurseries are DeNeen Pottery and Urban Growler Brewing Company, both at 2325 Endicott St.

Urban Growler is owned by Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch of Macalester-Groveland. “We’re proud to be located in the CEZ, where we’re surrounded by artists, potters, glass blowers and musicians,” Pavlak said. “When we found our current location, we needed to convince the landlord to rent to us. The CEZ wrote a letter on our behalf, and the rest is herstory.”

Pavlak credits the CEZ for turning “what was once just an industrial park into an urban oasis. Thanks to the CEZ, we have beautiful murals popping up all around our brewery. We also received a grant from the CEZ to give us some COVID relief and help us provide for more socially distant ordering.

“We need the tax base industrial parks provide,” Pavlak said, “but who says industrial parks have to be desolate and ugly? The CEZ has proven that doesn’t have to be the case.”

— Anne Murphy

Creativity celebrated in the Zone on July 24

Discover the people, places and larger-than-life murals that are transforming the industrial area of Saint Paul’s West Midway area. The Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) will hold its Chroma Zone Midsummer Happening from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat., July 24, in the parking lot at 2417 University Ave.

The free, family-friendly event will feature live performances, walking and bicycle tours of the area, an artist and makers market and a host of hands-on activities. Maps of the 24-plus murals that have been created over the past two years will be available at the CEZ information booth. Guided walking tours of nearby murals will also step out at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 and 1:30 p.m.

Other highlights include:

  • A bike ride to see more CEZ murals beginning at 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. (restricted to bicyclists age 18 and older with helmets).
  • Demonstrations, hands-on activities and live performances by CAAM Chinese Dance Theater at 10:30 a.m.; Smiling Drum Studio at 12:30 p.m.; Art Buddies’ free art kits for children; and pavement murals made with biodegradable cornstarch paint.

For more information, visit creativeenterprisezone.org.

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