Over the past few years, an emerging arts community has taken root on St. Paul’s East Side.
Breakdance groups, American Indian dancing and singing troupes, visual artists, hip-hop DJs — all have found ways to express themselves without outside financial help. Until now.
A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is expected to continue and accelerate the growth of several arts organizations serving the increasingly diverse communities of the East Side.
Mary Anne Quiroz, co-founder of the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center and cultural arts director for the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, said the grant announced last week will help local artists promote their work while providing space and funding for them to flourish.
“A lot of this has happened before the grant was awarded, but this will help it continue to grow,” said Quiroz, who opened Indigenous Roots in May, a weekend event attended by an estimated 1,000 people. “This funding will help artists gather, create and make their work more accessible to the community.”
The NEA Our Town award will specifically help WEQY East Side Radio and Indigenous Roots — both partners with the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council — tap local artists, residents and organizations to create an arts and cultural chapter for St. Paul’s comprehensive plan, City Council Member Jane Prince said.
“The significance of being able to do this on the East Side ... well, it’s music to my ears,” Prince said. “This will give these organizations the kind of boost that brings in — hopefully — significant private dollars.”
City-approved neighborhood plans already address housing, business development, new construction and preservation. Still to come, Prince said, are plans that identify an arts and culture strategy.
The NEA money will help forge such a strategy, as well as spread the word about the creativity already at work on the East Side, said Shay “Glorius” Martin, a radio host at WEQY and longtime mentor to area youth.
That means the artists of the East Side would have a pivotal role in creating St. Paul’s citywide arts identity, Prince said. Just as important, she said, the grant is the type of official recognition that will help local artists attract funding from area foundations.
That growth in the arts can become a major driver of economic development, Prince said, pointing to the thousands who have attended arts events in the area just over the past several months.
“There are people and places doing things here that I have never heard of,” Martin said of area artists who have been quietly creating for years. “This will help us get the word out.”