Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) is one of six newly established cultural and business districts along the Green Line Corridor. It extends from Prospect Park on the west to Prior Ave. on the east, and from Energy Park Dr. on the north to I-94 on the south.
Photo right: The Carleton Artist Lofts between Hampden and Carleton streets in the Creative Enterprise Zone. These subsidized, affordable apartments for people connected to the arts offer many amenities including studio and rehearsal space, a close-knit community and easy access to the Green Line.
At most recent count, according to writer Catherine Reid Day, board chair of the Creative Enterprise Zone, there are more than 500 creative enterprises within its boundaries. Reid Day said, “We are actively working on retaining and attracting light manufacturing and new creative enterprises to the CEZ. Our motto is: make it here!”
Reid Day explained that visioning for the CEZ began more than two decades ago, coming out of conversations between working artists and makers. “This is a cultural and business district that was already well-established,” she said. “The intention now is to maintain what’s already here with artist and maker studios, residences and live-work spaces.”
In 2009, one of the neighborhood anchors, the C&E Building on the corner of Pelham and University, was purchased by developers. It had long been home to floors of artist studios, and the loss of it was a real blow to the local community. People quickly realized that if they didn’t organize, other buildings with the affordable, ample space artists and makers need would soon be slated for re-development.
“We’ve always known that the formal establishment of the CEZ would take the work of many people,” Reid Day said. “All along we’ve partnered successfully with government officials and planners and have enjoyed an especially good relationship with the St. Paul City Council.”
Resident artists, makers and light manufacturers in the neighborhood started the momentum for the CEZ, and with the help of government and finance partners it has become a solid reality.
Erik Pearson of Shipwrecked Studio is a longtime resident of the CEZ. He makes art at his studio in the Dow Building at 2442 University Ave. and then walks home to the Carleton Artist Lofts (CAL) across the street where he lives with his wife, Deanna. They moved to the CAL building in 2006, just a month after it opened.
Photo left: The Superior, WI native named his creative enterprise Shipwrecked Studio. He said, “The big lake just stays with you,” and professes to have a love for all things nautical. In addition to being a talented painter, sculptor, woodworker and sailor, Pearson is a dedicated musician and gigs regularly with his band The Old Smugglers.
Pearson, a painter/muralist, sculptor, and musician, said CA provides subsidized, affordable housing for artists. “I’ve never lived in a place where I’ve known so many people,” he added. “Everyone here is connected to the arts in one way or another: as a working artist, a passionate hobbyist, an arts administrator or what have you. There are about 175 apartments in our three buildings, and we’ve built a strong sense of community.
Watch for arts and culture events happening here throughout the year, including our art crawl in the spring and fall when we turn our apartments into galleries and art-making spaces.”
Pearson realized from the beginning that he would need a studio space separate from where he lived. Since his early days in the art department at the University of WI in Superior, his hometown, Pearson’s paintings have just gotten bigger and bigger. His largest installation to date has been an exterior mural commissioned by the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center that measured 38 ‘ high and 65’ wide. Pearson uses a 4” brush and loads of scaffolding to produce his stylized characters inspired by German expressionist Max Beckmann, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and contemporary poster art.
Nicole Fierce of Fierce Design Studio is a glass blower and a brand new resident of the CEZ. Her 3,200 square foot gallery and in-process workspace are located in the Midwest Commercial Building at 2500 University Ave. Fierce searched for the new space for months. A bright green door on Cromwell Ave. opens directly into her gallery and it was this street presence, along with easy access from the Green Line, which sealed the deal.
Photo left: Every glass object is shaped and smoothed with a wad of newspapers. According to Fierce, “The NY Times is best, having the lowest percentage of clay components in the newsprint. The Star Tribune holds up okay, the Pioneer Press falls apart, and the community papers are just too small.“
Fierce has been repurposing her space since she moved in last January. She has gutted rooms, removing dropped ceilings, installed track lighting, skim coated and painted concrete floors and, last but not least, hired three graffiti artists to make the walls shine. Her eye-catching logo, painted on the side of the Midwest Commercial Building says it all: FIERCE GLASS. Beauty born in fire. Never fragile – always classy.
Photo right: Fierce always blows glass with a partner. “It’s like a dance,” she said, “when two people are really in sync with each other. With my best apprentices, we don’t speak in full sentences, just nods, and grunts. We’re working with glass that’s been
heated to 2,200 degrees. We need to be very observant and responsive toward each other.” When her two furnaces are up and running this fall, Fierce plans to roll the garage doors open on Franklin Ave. so people can see what’s going on. She understands as well as anyone how mesmerizing molten glass can be, and she appreciates the “chemistry of interest” when people walk by.
Asked how she became a glass blower, Fierce answered, “I took one class four years ago and was completely hooked. I blew for a year, continued to learn from community glass artists, and then jumped in with everything I had.”
That seems to be the sentiment of many artists and makers working in the CEZ. The beauty of the formalization of the district is that it will foster even more cooperation and shared opportunities for artists, makers, and light manufacturers.