Angela Casselton was recently named executive director of the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ), a non-profit organization that attracts and supports creatives of all kinds to “make it here.”
Where exactly is here? The CEZ sits squarely between the University of Minnesota and the Midway along University Ave. It’s a district that fosters creativity and innovation, equity and environmental health. It has also been the fastest growing neighborhood in St. Paul for five years.
Building on the past
Casselton is keenly aware of the economic challenge brought on by the pandemic, but remains hopeful as she starts her new job. She said, “I’ve been involved with this organization for years in different capacities. It’s important to remember that the CEZ was born during a time of great disruption, when Green Line construction tore up the length of University Ave.”
She continued, “We know that our neighborhood is resilient. Even so, there will be changes because of pandemic-related business closures. How it looks now may be different from how it will look next year.”
Most people know the CEZ for their work with the Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival in 2019, for which they have earned their monikor, “the mural people.” A dozen murals were commissioned by artists from the Twin Cities and beyond two summers ago.
Casselton worked with CEZ founder, Catherine Reid Day, to gather neighborhood sponsors for that first-ever event in St. Paul. Casselton said, “I learned about so many businesses in the CEZ through those contacts, and was given an opportunity to help shape that first festival, too. “
Her learned experience will be put to good use in 2021 when the festival returns. Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, the 2020 Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival was cancelled and sponsors were released from their obligations. Nonetheless, with grant funding from the Knight Foundation and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the CEZ was still able to oversee the creation of six new murals last year.
In addition to brightening the corridor with public art, CEZ staff and board members are working behind the scenes in other ways. Casselton said, “The key to the success of the CEZ as an organization has been, and will continue to be, collaboration.”
An example is the US Bank that used to operate at the corner of Raymond and University avenues. The property has been purchased by developer Kraus-Anderson, and will be replaced with a multi-story housing project.
The Kraus-Anderson development team met with a task force that included CEZ staff several times while they were designing that project. Casselton said, “They made a point of bringing us to the table. This kind of collaboration results in a neighborhood that is more cohesive and better functioning.”
With the recent installation of Renee Spillum as board president, the CEZ board is prepared to move forward into the world of real estate negotiations. Spillum is a senior project manager for Seward Redesign, a community development corporation that promotes the health, vitality and self-determination of the Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis. She holds a masters of public policy with a concentration in housing and community development from the Humphrey Institute, and has lived in the Midway area for 15 years.
One of the ideas up for consideration is forming a Community Investment Cooperative, modeled on the one being explored by the Hamline Midway Coalition (with technical assistance provided by CEZ consultant Erin Heelan.) That would give corridor residents a chance to buy into building ownership, preserving space for creative studios and shops.
Casselton said, “The definition of ‘creative’ includes artists of all kinds, manufacturers, entrepreneurs with a creative focus, architects, designers, writers, and artisans. Our vision is rooted in the belief that creative work is both necessary and deeply satisfying. A growing number of people make a living through their creative talents. The more vibrant the mix of people and ideas here, the more desirable the CEZ will be to live and work in.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the staff and volunteers of CEZ continue with their core operations: a monthly newsletter, social media communications, community-driven real-estate work and more.
Questions about the CEZ can be directed to executive director Angela Casselton at firstname.lastname@example.org. For newsletter sign-up, visit www.creativeenterprisezone.org.