Amid bad news for the arts, a Highpoint

Printmaking center prepares for move to Lake Street

THE WEDGE — Visitors to Highpoint Center for Printmaking’s new building on Lake Street may not notice this difference from its original Lyndale Avenue location, but it’s an important one to Executive Director Carla McGrath.

For the first time since the nonprofit printmaking cooperative was founded in 2001, McGrath has her own office. Staff members used to share a single, cramped office at 2638 Lyndale Ave. S., a small room that also did duty as a library.

“I’ve never been able to concentrate” in the old space, she joked.

It’s not only McGrath who will have more breathing room when Highpoint opens at 912 W. Lake St. in June. The printmaking shops and gallery are larger, and the center has a dedicated classroom for the first time.

“The whole program is really getting the space it needed for a long time,” McGrath said.

That expansion is happening at a time when many other local arts organizations are cutting back.

Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, a St. Paul nonprofit that advises local arts organizations, said the faltering economy led to a significant drop in grants and donations. As foundations watched their endowments shrink with the stock market, some contributors to the arts decided to cut back or redirect their giving.

Meanwhile, Highpoint continued to make significant strides toward its $3.5 million capital campaign. In April, it announced a $250,000 Kresge Foundation challenge grant that brought its total fundraising for the campaign to $2.4 million.

“At any time, being two-thirds of the way to a goal is a really good sign,” Zabel said, adding that was particularly true in this economy.

“I think it’s great for the whole arts community to have an example of an organization that is really thriving,” she said.

Some good news from a local arts organization may be just what the doctor ordered. A series of announcements over the last six months paint a grim picture.

In December, Intermedia Arts closed its galleries and laid off staff. The nonprofit community arts organization made the decision after major contributors announced plans to delay or cancel funding.

In March, the Walker Art Center announced plans to trim $2 million from its budget. That same month, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts announced pay cuts and layoffs.

Both museums said the economic downturn drove the decision to make cuts.

Highpoint was not unscathed by the economy. Plans to add two part-time staff members after the move were delayed, Artistic Director Cole Rogers said.

“We’re not going to fill those [positions] until we’ve been in the space and get a real feel for what the funding is going to be like,” Rogers said.

In mid-April, Highpoint still had to raise just over $1 million to reach its capital campaign goal, not an insignificant challenge, Rogers acknowledged.

“Anybody who’s not been queasy over the brutal [economic] news is being naïve,” he said. “We continue to keep our fingers crossed and do our best, and so far the community has come to bat and really supported us.”

Highpoint Board Member Stuart Nielsen said much of the campaign planning and lining-up of donors was completed “long before the economy went south.”

“We had laid some groundwork and we were sort of prepared for downtime,” Nielsen said.

Highpoint members had nothing but downtime since March, when the gallery closed temporarily. With just weeks to go before the re-opening, many were anticipating the new, better and — importantly — bigger Highpoint.

Said Rogers: “A lot of it is just about having the time and space to actually work.”