Dayton’s Bluff arts community awarded $100,000 NEA grant

The collective of Dayton’s Bluff arts and culture organizations will use the National Endowment for the Arts grant to plan an arts and culture addendum to the City of St. Paul’s Comprehensive Plan. Marjorie Otto/Review

Collective seeks art and culture addendum to city’s comprehensive plan


The Dayton’s Bluff community has been awarded a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant.

The grant, which the collective of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center and WEQY Radio announced last week, will be used to help the organizations plan an arts and culture addendum to the city of St. Paul’s comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan is a 20-year blueprint that guides the development of the city. Each St. Paul neighborhood creates a plan for its community, which is then added to the overall city comprehensive plan. 

Currently, the plan covers housing, business development, new construction, historic preservation, green space and social vitality, but does not name a specific arts and culture strategy.

“This Our Town Cultural Planning project will harness current momentum to add a strong Art and Cultural Strategy to existing plans and build a new unifying theme to connect and amplify the important work of cultural communities through the arts,” said a press release from the community collective.

“The arts are what we need to bring us together in our diverse community and we are doing it better than a lot of other places in the city, the state and definitely across the nation,” said St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince, who represents Ward 7, during a June 20 press conference about the grant.

The National Endowments for the Arts gave out 89 Our Town grants nationwide, for a total of $6.89 million.

Including other NEA grants, Minnesota received a total of 30 this year for $4,437,075, ranking it third in the nation for the total amount of grants received.

 No small feat 

The Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, which supports both WEQY Radio and Indigenous Roots, has worked to establish the East Side as an art and culture hub for years. The NEA grant is a huge boost for the organizations, which have gotten by on small budgets with the help of small grants.

WEQY Radio first went live three years ago, with a goal to “serve the East Side as a community anchor, connecting and sparking dialogue across cultures and generations, educating the public, and broadcasting the voices of the East Side.”

Shay Glorius L. Martin, the station manager for WEQY, described the radio station and its volunteers as “building a soundtrack to what we are doing, a soundtrack and a choir, a choir of different people of different nationalities coming together to sing the same song of equity, equality and community and what that means.”

“We’ve been operating on Skittles, water and Wonderbread,” Martin laughed at the press conference. “This is only the beginning.” 

The same year WEQY first hit the airwaves, the radio station and the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council hosted the first 7th Street Live music and art block party. This year’s party will be held on Aug. 26.

During the summer of 2016, East Seventh Street was chosen by Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation for an arts corridor designation and a $27,500 Co-Action grant. 

In addition, the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council has also received a $15,000 grant from the St. Paul Foundation and an additional $15,000 grant from the F.R. Bigelow Foundation. 

This arts corridor designation ranked East Seventh Street with other well-know arts corridors like Lake Street in south Minneapolis, West Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis, and University Avenue in St. Paul.



Loving the work

In 2017 the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council hired Mary Anne Quiroz, co-founder of the Mexica-Nahua cultural dance group Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, to serve as its new cultural arts director. 

A few months later in May, Quiroz, along with her husband Sergio and a collective of artists, opened the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center next door to WEQY Radio. The center serves as an artistic center for the neighborhood, where artists can rent space to practice and create their art. 

“This is my new favorite thing going on right now. There is a heart and a grit in this place that I love,” said Joe Spencer, who has been the director of arts and culture within the St. Paul mayor’s office for 12 years, speaking at the press conference.

“I know for certain, for certain 100 percent, when we look at this neighborhood in two years, when we look at a two-block radius of this place, the transformation that will take place ... you are transforming this place, and you’re changing the world,” Spencer said. “Don’t ever ever let go of that romance.”

As for the next step, Quiroz said the community council, WEQY and the cultural arts center will begin planning how to create the arts and culture addendum to the comprehensive plan.

“We are doing the work we always love and are passionate about doing,” Quiroz said at the press conference, “and so for an entity like the National Endowments for the Arts to recognize that — we don’t need them to recognize it — but it sure does feel good. And $100,000 is not so bad either.”

“We want to see this neighborhood grow,” Sergio said, “we want to see the whole East Side be the talk of the city, of Minnesota, and why not the nation?” 

“But we can only accomplish that by staying united as artists, united as people, united as organizations to be able to uplift this neighborhood so that we can be top of the nation and be an example for others,” he added.

“Imagine all the things we did being broke. Imagine, with a few dollars, what we can do.”


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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