After five years of planning and preparation, the Twin Cities-based Playwrights' Center on Wednesday unveiled its new St. Paul space, which aims to welcome a new generation of artists by the spring of 2024.
The center, one of the only year-round play development centers in the country, promotes the importance of theater arts by supporting playwrights as they create new work.
Located in a 9,000-square-foot former church on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis for nearly 45 years, the center will now reside at 710 Raymond Av. in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. The new location in a 19,000-square-foot former warehouse, to be designed by local firm HGA, will include a 140-seat theater, a rehearsal studio, mindfulness rooms and space for the community to gather.
"We're trying to create the space where everyone can come and actually live into their most complex, fully realized ideas," said Jeremy Cohen, the center's producing artistic director. "The new building really allows us the tools to be able to do that."
The center received $850,000 from the $1.9 billion bonding bill the Minnesota Legislature approved in 2020. Since then, the nonprofit has collected a combination of public, private and federal funding, including a $4 million federal appropriation earmarked by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum.
"It has been one of the primary forces of the Twin Cities theater movement for 50 years," McCollum said in a pre-recorded video that played at a kickoff event Wednesday at Dual Citizen Brewing Company, across the street from the new space. "This is one of the most important investments we can make."
So far, the center has secured $9.25 million of its more than $19 million goal. The center is hoping to raise an additional $5.65 million from a state bonding bill this year.
The center supports about 2,500 writers, so the organization wanted the new space to be in a central location accessible to artists and community members. The center paid around 200 artists to consult during the design process and received three clear requests for the new space: coffee, a space to do laundry and somewhere to cry.
With sections built in 1913, the 1950s and the 1990s, the building's spaces will ebb and flow from open and light rooms for group interactions to more intimate nooks and crannies for privacy. To prepare for future adaptations in theater, the space is being designed to be resilient to structural change.
"We have been working on creating more access to our programming in many ways," said Robert Chelimsky, the center's managing director. "This space is going to even more deeply support our ability, technologically, to reach out to work with artists who are in different areas."
The center has a global reach, working with members in 23 countries outside the United States. Although it provides support for artists far from the Twin Cities, its continued aim is to highlight artists at home in Minnesota.
"While we may have a national and international reach, which is really important to us, the space also reflects that which is inherently the multiple experiences of being in Minnesota," Chelimsky said, "and we're really excited to share that."
Maya Marchel Hoff is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.