Above: Photograph of "Second Shift Studio Space" as of Jan. 2019. Photo courtesy of Chris Larson and Kriss Zulkosky

Every artist knows what it’s like to work a day job and then, after putting in long hours, hit the studio and try to be creative till the wee hours.

That struggle is how St. Paul-based artist Chris Larson and his wife, Kriss Zulkosky, got the inspiration and name for their latest project, Second Shift Studio Space on St. Paul's East Side. They are offering free studio space to four artists beginning June 1 through a nonprofit residency program.

"It’s such a challenge, to have that extra financial part taken out of your paycheck for studio space," said Larson. "Me and Kriss have both worked the second and sometimes third shift. Art is usually what you do after you do your day job, after you get your paycheck."

An internationally known artist who is a professor at the University of Minnesota and recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship, Larson has exhibited at Walker Art Center but is probably best known locally for his performance during the Northern Spark festival in 2013, when he built a wooden replica of a St. Paul house designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer and then burned it to the ground.

Second Shift Studio Space will provide a free, semi-private studio space for an entire year to four artists who either identify as women, are on the trans spectrum, or are gender non-conforming. Applications are open now until March 15. (To apply, click here.) 

Artists will be selected in April by the studio’s board, made up of influential artists, a Walker curator, and others. The cycle will officially begin on June 1, so long as all the renovations are finished.

Larson, a multimedia artist and professor at the University of Minnesota, and Zulkosky, who is a labor delivery nurse, kept seeing their artist friends getting priced out of studios. As lifelong residents of East St. Paul, they also wanted to give back to the arts community.

"We wanted to do something together [in the neighborhood] for awhile, and post-election everything kicked into gear," said Larson. "This felt like the right time."

In 2017, they happened upon an old linoleum shop on Payne Ave. in East St. Paul.

“We went to a couple [buildings], but by chance stopped into that store,” said Larson. “The owner wasn’t planning on selling, but he said if someone made me an offer, he’d take it.”

By October 2017, they purchased the building for $50,000.

It wasn’t exactly planned, however. That money came from $75,000 that they took out against a second mortgage on their house. The other $25,000 would go toward building renovations. Through an email and newsletter campaign, they have also raised an additional $11,000. They were also awarded a $17,300 Star Grant from the city of St. Paul, to put toward renovations.

Since then, the two have committed basically any free time to the building itself.

“I think we both get energy from overextending,” said Larson. “We go to a lot of art and music events together and have always been supportive of both those scenes.”

He also thinks that Payne Avenue is maybe “the most diverse street in Minnesota, in terms of who owns businesses.” Not only is it home to the the East Side Arts Council, Hmong Chamber of Minnesota, Little Burma Grocery, and the Somali-owned Karibu Grocery Deli, but the street also has a special significance for Larson, who also recently won a Guggenheim Fellowship.

“My grandpa, who is still alive and will be 101 years old in February, grew up close to Payne Avenue,” he said. “My great-grandpa grew up on Magnolia [Avenue].”

Zulkosky also felt a calling to help artists.

“Witnessing the day to day struggle and the work ethic of artists made me want to be an advocate,” said Zulkosky. “We dreamed of providing a place to foster growth and the positive attributes that art has to offer to the greater community.”

Above: Before renovations in October 2017, Second Shift was a linoleum store on St. Paul's Payne Avenue.

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