Art Crawl’s 25th anniversary focuses on Lowertown culture past and present

The 25th anniversary of the Saint Paul Art Crawl focuses on the neighborhood’s vibrant history and promising future.
The Saint Paul Art Collective Board is working with Metro Transit to offer free passes so visitors can easily access all participating buildings and neighborhoods.

Nothing compares to Saint Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood—a solid community dedicated to preserving the history and culture that changed the area for the better—and more than 300 artists will open their doors to celebrate that culture for the 25th anniversary of the Saint Paul Art Crawl this month.

“In many ways, art changed the community, and we need to showcase that,” says Marla Gamble, a member of the St. Paul Art Collective and former board member.

Empty parking lots and under-utilized warehouses were the makeup of the Lowertown neighborhood in the 1970s. Many attribute the affordability of the empty buildings as the original attraction to artists in the area. “It really changed the community,” Gamble says.

The founding artists of the Art Crawl, many of whom occupied spaces in those warehouses, hosted a one-time exhibition at the Union Depot. They also hosted fundraisers there and smaller events at Landmark Center. Gamble explains that for nearly a dozen years after that, the artists loosely organized art shows around Lowertown. “But it wasn’t any sort of official way to open up a building,” she adds.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the Art Crawl finally took shape; with the Northern Warehouse, the artists realized there were enough buildings available for an art crawl. “Artists opened up their homes,” Gamble says. “Everybody wanted to get inside the warehouses and see what’s happening. It was something new for the city, and it was coming alive.”

Five buildings participated in the first Saint Paul Art Crawl, two of which, the Jax and 262 Studios, were recently sold to private developers. “This will be the first year without the Jax building,” says Tom Reynen, president of the St. Paul Art Collective board of directors. “However, 262 Studios will be part of the fall art crawl.”

Gamble points out that nearly every block in Lowertown has an artist’s touch to it. “The sidewalks, the murals on sides of buildings, the music scene, the culture of Lowertown in general—that’s all the artists’ work throughout the years,” she says.

The 25th anniversary of the Saint Paul Art Crawl will primarily focus on the culture that created Lowertown’s vibrant recent history, but it will also focus on its expansion to other communities and artists in the city. “We’re going to have an exhibit embracing the art,” Reynen says. “We have most of the original posters, and those will prove how art has changed. And we are also going to open the art crawl to several different communities.”

From buildings along University and Grand avenues all the way to South Como to the East Side and West Seventh neighborhoods, approximately 30 buildings will be included in the Saint Paul Art Crawl. Reynen says he’s expecting between 300 and 350 artists to participate, with more than 20,000 visitors throughout the three-day event. “We try to keep it open to all artists,” he adds. “Anyone who wants to participate can participate.”

Both Reynen and Gamble are proud of the popularity of the event with Twin Cities residents, and both stress they can only hope it will grow in the future.

“Recognized for its tremendous success, the Saint Paul Art Crawl has become a model arts event that is emulated in cities across the country,” Reynen writes in the 25th anniversary Saint Paul Art Crawl catalog. “It has evolved from a fun weekend art event to a framework for creating and fostering important, interdependent relationships between the arts community and the city of Saint Paul.”

The Fall Saint Paul Art Crawl will take place October 14–16. For more information on participating artists, maps and event times, visit