On the city beat: Lively arts students brighten St. Paul core

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Updated: December 30, 2011 - 7:27 PM

Into the sameness of the daily work routine downtown, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists students burst into the hallways, skyways and shops with edgy style and enthusiastic teen spirit.

The charter high school has classrooms in the Landmark Center on Rice Park and the Lowry Building across from City Hall. From morning until evening, the students chatter and giggle as they shuttle among their classes. The long-haired boys and girls duck into soundproof rooms with glass doors for guitar practice sessions seen by passersby. They sit on the hallway floors, nibbling their lunches, focused on their conversations or nuzzling a beau.

About 550 students attend the ninth- through 12th-grade school, which opened in 2005. Academic courses are required, but the school also aims to train aspiring artists in dance, instrumental music, musical theater, theater and vocal arts.

The kids punch up the street life with their creative energy and independent spirits. They buoy the city with an artsy, optimistic vibe that can make certain corners of downtown at times feel as fun and hip as Manhattan's West Village.

A passel of sophomore theater majors seemed to agree.

Sporting shimmery green nail polish, Hannah Main, of St. Paul, said, "I think we make the city more of a city."

Rachel Burbel, of Oakdale, said without the students, "it's more corporate."

To Wylie Peterson, who gets a ride from dad in the morning and buses home to East Bethel every day, "It's like a constant episode of 'The Hills' or 'Sex and the City.'"

Main said she likes being out from behind the walls of traditional high schools. "You go outside and feel like more of an adult," she said of her school.

The students say downtown's traditional denizens either embrace them or shush them, but the kids won't be deterred.

"We're lighting things up and bringing style," Main said. To which Burbel added, "We're pops of color."

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035

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