Mounds Theatre seeking to capitalize upon STAR grant

Mitchell Frazier, Lighting and Technical Director, and Raeann Ruth, Founder and Executive Director, are striving to raise funds for needed updates at the Historic Mounds Theatre. They are hoping the Kick Starter Campaign will help in their quest to match a $5,000 Star Grant awarded by the City of St. Paul. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

The sound room with sound and light board are 20 and 30 years old. The Historic Mounds Theatre is in dire need to update the decades old equipment with lighting fixtures, flexible lighting, dimming capacity, and all around upgrades. (submitted photo)

Rebecca Rowe
Staff writer


In their efforts to bring the arts to St. Paul's East Side, Historic Mounds Theatre relies upon very little.

One full-time employee operates the multiple theater projects, including summer enrichment programs and near weekly shows.

Now, the organization with so little is so close to receiving a boost.

And the difference between $10,000 and nothing for Mounds Theatre may be dependent upon you.

Matching grant
A St. Paul Cultural STAR grant was awarded in late 2012 to the Historic Mounds Theatre.

The Dayton's Bluff establishment received $5,000 to support repairs of its building originally built in 1922 as a venue for silent movies and live entertainment.

Today theater groups rent the space to stage their productions, and patrons snack on candy and freshly popped corn from the concession stand. The building is just west of Earl Street and north of Interstate 94.

"I fell in love with the space immediately upon entering. Anyone who enters falls in love with the space," said Mitchell Frazier, technical advisor of the facility. "The renovations, especially with the lighting and sound systems, are necessary for us to share this beautiful, flexible, and unique theater with more people."

Aimed at strengthening cultural organizations, STAR grants necessitate a matching of funds by the recipient.

Every dollar given to an organization, such as the $5,000 to Mounds Theatre, must be matched by a dollar raised through donations or volunteer hours.

If the recipient fails to match its funding amount, it receives nothing; no support at all.

"It really is absolutely necessary that we raise this money and receive the grant from the city. Our ability to attract groups to perform here on the East Side relies upon having a functioning theater," said executive director Raeann Ruth.

A Kickstarter Campaign

Mentioning to Frazier's son their need to raise the matching STAR funds, Ruth learned about the Kickstarter platform for creative projects.

Kickstarter is an online effort allowing individuals to directly support ambitious, innovative, and imaginative art ventures.

Interested contributors pledge money to turn a project plan into reality. Funding through Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, and pledges only become donations if the financial backing goal is achieved.

Led by Ruth and Frazier, the dedicated bunch at Mounds Theatre designed a video sharing their message of need.

The rousing video, along with additional information about the necessity of the project, were posted to the theater's newly established Kickstarter page.

"We're really willing to share in any manner possible the history and beauty of Mounds Theatre," said Frazier. "It is our theater here in our community and a place about which we're proud. You shouldn't have to go across the river to see a performance. Please help us reach our goal."

Frazier, a 1982 graduate of Harding High School, received inspiration from teacher Dale Fretland to pursue his love of theater.

Frazier emulates daily the lessons learned from Fretland and hopes to similarly influence talented area youth through the enrichment programs at Mounds Theatre.

Official launch of their Kickstarter online pledge efforts began Jan. 28 and will run through March 14, only 18 days away.

Mounds Theatre is trying to raise $4,000 through the online platform. Employees of the theater donated their tips from recent performances for the additional $1,000 needed to match the Cultural STAR grant.


Reminiscing upon the early days of her involvement with Mounds Theatre, Ruth recalls the intense restoration of the vaudeville-era facility.

"My daughter and I were on our hands and knees removing over 500 bolts fastened to chairs completely falling apart," Ruth said. "It was such a process, and only one part of the greater theater rehabilitation, but I knew, I really knew, the potential of this place and what it could and can be."

Mounds Theatre was donated to Ruth and her youth-serving nonprofit organization in 2001 by George Hardenbergh, a former Ramsey County Commissioner.

Ruth envisioned the theater as a gathering space for the community and a location out of which her "Portage for Youth" enrichment program could operate.

Approximately 10 years after its official grand reopening, Mounds Theatre is now a recognizable and impacting landmark on the East Side.

Unknowing visitors are drawn to the hidden gem of East St. Paul through the outstanding performances and youth educational activities.

And, most importantly, Dayton's Bluff, Payne-Phalen, and other nearby residents are allowed the opportunity to engage their creative side through the various experiences available at their historic Mounds Theatre.

STAR Program

Established in 1994, the Sales Tax Revitalization (STAR) Program provides funding for the capital expenses of the St. Paul Civic Center Complex.

Remaining revenue from the city's half-cent sales tax is dispersed through the Neighborhood STAR and Cultural STAR programs.

Organizations promoting residential, cultural, commercial, and economic development in St. Paul may apply for STAR funds.

Approximately 50 percent of the sales tax proceeds support the Neighborhood STAR grants and loans. The Cultural STAR program typically distributes around 10 percent of the city sales tax revenue.

Grants must be matched dollar for dollar. A maximum of 30 percent of the match may be achieved through volunteer labor valued at $10 per hour.

The STAR program is administered by the city of St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Applications are due on March 28 for the 2013 Neighborhood STAR program.

The Cultural STAR initiative distributes funds biannually. Its first 2013 submission deadline has passed. Interested organizations need to prepare and submit their application by Aug. 30 for the second yearly Cultural STAR review.

For more information about STAR programs, call 651-266-7827 or visit

Rebecca Rowe can be reached at or at 651- 748-7816.

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