St. Paul mini-golf, Lowertown artists club win major national arts grants

Blue Ox Mini Golf and Bedlam Theatre won for St. Paul spaces and Lanesboro Art Center for its community programs.

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Artists with Blue Ox Mini Golf plan to install an 18-hole course outside the Schmidt Artists Lofts, an old St. Paul brewery that’s being renovated for apartments, townhouses and studio space.

Photo: Jim GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com,

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Two St. Paul arts projects — a mini-golf course linked to artists’ housing on W. 7th Street and a club featuring performing artists off the light-rail line in Lowertown — have won major grants from a national arts collaborative.

Artists with Blue Ox Mini Golf were awarded $350,000 from ArtPlace America for an 18-hole course they plan to install next year outside the Schmidt Artists Lofts, an old brewery that’s being renovated for apartments, townhouses and studio space.

Also receiving a $350,000 grant was Minneapolis-based Bedlam Theatre, which plans to open a club this summer across from the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

Both won in the category “Using Art to Connect and Animate Communities.”

In all, Minnesota arts groups won three grants of the 54 announced Monday by ArtPlace, a collection of national and regional foundations, banks and federal agencies that seek to use art to strengthen communities.

The Lanesboro Arts Center won a $313,000 grant to spread economy-stimulating artistic programs throughout the southeastern Minnesota town of 750.

“They’re really interested in funding a variety of creative placemaking efforts to spur economic development and increase vibrancy,” said Jennifer Pennington, marketing director for Blue Ox Mini Golf. She said the grant will pay for most of the $500,000 project, an artist-designed course that will offer interactive art for the public similar to mini-golf courses built by Walker Art Center at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 2004 and 2008.

The Blue Ox group, which includes Walker course director Christi Atkinson and Pennington’s husband, Chris, who designed a hole for the Walker’s 2008 course and came up with the idea of artsy mini-golf, will seek proposals from artists for each hole.

Jennifer Pennington said that the artists will have to follow guidelines developed with the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and that the course will relate in some way to the history of the Schmidt brewery and the West End. She said she hopes for construction to begin this fall and the course to open next May, when the housing project will be complete.

Bedlam Lowertown is expected to open this summer, chief artistic officer John Bueche said. He said it will be similar to a jazz or comedy club but will offer instead theater, music and cabaret performances, with a highly flexible cover charge.

“We’ve always been fascinated with Lowertown,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to be part of the Central Corridor light-rail line and the forward thinking that’s going along with it.”

The Bedlam project will cost an estimated $1.5 million; with $600,000 already raised, the ArtPlace grant will get Bedlam almost two-thirds of the way to its goal, Bueche said.

The Lanesboro Arts Center project — called the Lanesboro Arts Campus — received its award in the category “Using Art to Bring New Life to Rural Communities.” It will integrate poetry and arts into public spaces, encourage pedestrian activity with an artful “wayfinding” system, renovate the St. Mane Theatre and support creative entrepreneurship.

The project also will position Lanesboro as a dynamic national model of “town as arts center,” which aims to strengthen economic development, foster community cohesion and increase vibrancy.

Staff writer Kristin Tillotson contributed to this report.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

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