Mary Cutrufello has been a rock star, a delivery truck driver and, now, executive director of the W. 7th Street/Fort Road Federation.
Yes, the 50-year-old continues to perform three nights a week across Minnesota and will head to Austin, Texas, for gigs after Thanksgiving. And, yes, Cutrufello would welcome a return to the stardom she once tasted (she even appeared on the "Tonight Show").
Star Tribune music writer Chris Riemenschneider wrote an excellent story about her unique career path back in 2012.
But the Yale graduate relishes her new role not only advocating for one of St. Paul's oldest neighborhoods, but also helping its newest arrivals feel more welcome as they put down roots.
In a recent interview with Eye On St. Paul, Cutrufello talked about what drew her to the area, how she came to advocate for its neighborhoods and how she wouldn't say "no" to a return to stardom.
This interview was edited for length.
Q: How did you go from recording artist to delivery driver to directing the Fort Road Federation?
A: I'd been a board member for a few years, so I knew everybody. When the previous director stepped down ... I was at the meeting and we kind of got halfway through it and they go, "Why don't you do it?" I was kind of on the lookout for a new gig — and there it was.
Q: What brought you to St. Paul?
A: I moved to Austin [Tex., for the music]. Then I moved to Houston. When I moved to Minneapolis, it was OK. But I really liked the vibe here [in St. Paul]. It reminds me of Fort Worth. Now, Minneapolis isn't like Dallas, at all, but St. Paul is kind of like Fort Worth. It's neighborhood-oriented. It's super cool ... Now I recognize it for its own identity.
Q: Over the past several years, W. 7th has gained a reputation as an artists' enclave. What is it about the neighborhood that fosters people in the arts?
A: It's cheap [laughs]. But also, it has kind of reached critical mass. There are enough of us that there's a little bit of momentum in the place. The two biggest things: It's cheap but not sketchy, you know? And there are enough of us here that if you have a friend who says "I've got to find a place to live," there's somebody right around here to help.
Q: How do nine years as a resident and having been a board member help you in the new job?
A: I'm around. I feel like I have a pretty good idea what's on people's minds. When the Truck Park shooting happened, we're all like: "Why is this happening in our neighborhood?" I have my ear to the ground.
Later, we set up a meeting with [City Council Member] Rebecca Noecker and a police representative to address the community right away. We can pivot like that because we're small, and yet we have enough resources that people will listen.
Q: You majored in American Studies at Yale [she studied a mill town in the Carolinas and a slate quarry in Vermont]. What have you learned about W. 7th?
A: You can tell it's a working class neighborhood and always has been. It's very much as it always was, and that stability is fascinating. Families have been here for generations, and yet you have all these new neighbors.
Q: What challenges does the neighborhood face?
A: The biggest one at the moment is crime. Longer term, I think making sure everybody feels a part of this town is really important. Those [new] people could stay here for five generations too.
Q: How do you do that?
A: Getting out there. Meeting face to face. I mean, I'm from Connecticut. But I love it here. I guess sometimes it can look insular from the outside. I think maybe just have events and do community outreach. Find places. Like at Keg & Case. The lawn. It's not a public space but it kind of functions like one. Everybody can feel comfortable there.
Q: You still perform [including every Tuesday at the White Squirrel Bar]. What's better — life under the lights or neighborhood advocacy?
A: I mean, if I had my druthers, I'd be a rock star [laughs]. You know, I had a good run. The peak of it lasted about two years. But there were a lot of things out of my control. I'm not bitter. But, sure, if I could be a rock star again, I'd go. I mean, come on, man [laughs again].