This weekend heralded not only a closure to mild summer-like weather, but also the last Saint Paul Art Crawl John and I will attend as residents of Lowertown. Each spring and fall we’ve participated in these events as spectators, art patrons and neighbors to the extremely talented people living and working a stone’s throw outside our apartment door. This is evidenced by the original artwork that graces our home from Lowertown talent such as Rhea Pappas (now a Minneapolis artist) to Barbara Evans and Caroline Mecklin (Jax Building/4th floor.) It’s also apparent in the Lowertown-handcrafted jewelry that is a part of my everyday wardrobe.
It has been both a pleasure and a luxury to be able to watch such creativity happen around us and to bring it into our home twice a year. The Art Crawl and the live music we’ve enjoyed at the Black Dog Cafe, will no doubt be the most significant experiences we will miss as we move to the Minneapolis North Loop in late November.
It is interesting to read the local papers as “experts” and city leaders continue to insist that the art scene hasn’t changed in Lowertown, and won’t, once the ball park and bars begin to gear up in the next two years. But for those of us who have lived here prior to the “Lowertown hype,” the change is already marked and very apparent. Long time resident artists, such as Mike Hazard and Rhea Pappas have already left for more receptive artist neighborhoods. And, the building that houses some the artists who John and I feel are among the most talented in the district, the Jax Building, is rumored now to be slated for the wrecking ball or refurbishment, in order to make way for–you guessed it–another luxury condo or rental community.
Jax Building artist, Caprice Glaser, spoke with us today as we visited her studio. “We hear that we will all probably have to leave,” she explained to John and me. “The building won’t house artist studios anymore.” When I asked her how she is dealing with losing her studio space she said, “I try not to think about it. I just come in and work on my art.”
If you believe that Lowertown is beyond “gentrification” because two of the buildings are designated as artist cooperatives (Northern Warehouse and Tilsner, both artist studio/residences) you may want to take a closer look into reality artists are facing down here. The former abandoned warehouse space in the neighborhood was artist-friendly because it enabled individuals with less financial means to afford studios here. The Jax Building in particular enabled individuals who did not want to live in their work space, to have studios. This means that, for artists who don’t wish to, or aren’t able to reside where they work, Lowertown will likely not be a viable place for them for much longer.
Some of the artists we chatted with today also stated that they were being compelled to consider relocating because the increasing neighborhood noise was interfering too much with their creativity as they attempt to work in their studios. No amount of designated artist funding will shield these people from the sound of construction (which, we’re being told, will be complete in about 5 years), increased
traffic and the inevitable cacophony that comes from people patronizing an entertainment district and ball park.
Another change John and I noted in the Art Crawl this fall is that non-independent artist participation is seeping into the event. For instance, Blick Art Supply had a booth stationed on the corner of Prince Street, in front of the Black Dog Cafe, giving out logo tote bags, almost as if the event were part of the Minnesota State Fair. I remember when, as recent as last spring, the Black Dog reserved this prime spot for local jewelry makers and portrait painters. It would appear that even our local cafe has gotten caught up in a movement that favors sponsors who can rent space, over the local artists displaying their goods.
As much as John and I would love to believe that the Art Crawl, and the artists we supported and enjoyed, will be here when we come back to visit, it’s hard to deny the signs that the future in Lowertown may not include them.