Chris Larson and his wife Kriss Zulkosky saw their artist friends being priced of out their studio spaces by developers, a common occurrence in the local art scene.
“We thought we’d do the opposite: buy a building, renovate it and offer free studio space specifically for women artists in the the Twin Cities,” Larson said.
They did just that. They bought out the old linoleum shop next to Cook St. Paul on Payne Avenue with a goal of providing studio space for female identifying artists.
“Rent on a studio space is a substantial part of your income,” Larson said. “If you can give people a leg up on just that and bring them into the community, you have such an advantage.
Both Kriss and I are pro-women. This has been my home since I was born and I’ve seen whats happened in the Twin Cities and who has gotten opportunity and who has not. Definitely if you look at institutions, it’s leaned more toward men than women.”
They recruited a group of diverse artists to serve on their board and help guide their vision, turning the operation into a 501(c)3 nonprofit. One of those board members, Tina Tavera, an established Latinx art curator, was eager to jump in and help.
“As an independent curator, I specially work with underrepresented artists, primarily,” she said. “A lot of women study art, but there is still a lack of exhibitions including women. It’s many times harder for them to progress. This will give them the opportunity to work for one year and produce work.”
They named the organization Second Shift because, as Larson puts it, “typically artists have their first job and their second shift is when they go to their studio.” Tavera chimes in: “when they actually get to make their artwork!”
Zulkosky is a nurse at Regions Hospital and has a background of volunteering and organizing with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. Larson is an artist and an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m fourth generation East St. Paul,” Larson said. “My great grandfather lived on Magnolia, my grandfather lived in East St. Paul, my dad was raised in East St. Paul, I grew up in East St. Paul and shortly moved out in junior high. My wife and I still live in East St. Paul.”
Larson is a Yale graduate and has exhibited all around the world. But he always returns to his roots on the East Side.
“If you drive down Payne Avenue, I would argue it’s the most diverse street in Minnesota,” he said. “You have Hmong TV and Radio, you have a Hmong liquor store, you have all these mercardos, you have Yarusso’s, which is an old Italian restaurant, Morelli’s is the liquor store at the bottom (which has good deals), you have Tongue in Cheek, you have Cook, you have Sherrianne’s next door. There’s a Burmese grocery store, East Side Thai is delicious. I’m telling you this is such an amazing amazing street! East Side Freedom Library, it’s incredible!”
The linoleum business that was operating out of the space had been suffering after 75 years in business (Larson even remembers his grandfather shopping there).
“When we walked in, the store was packed from the front to the back,” Larson recalls. “We found our way to the back and Fred (the owner) was in the back. We were the first people to come in in two and half weeks. I think it was challenging for the small business for this particular product because Home Depot was just pricing them out.”
The organization has held a few fundraisers and received a STAR grant from the City of St. Paul. They plan to continue fundraising as they enter the final stages of construction, and are talking with other businesses along the avenue about holding joint events.
“In five years, I want to be an integral part of the East Side,” Larson said. “I love it here.”
Second Shift is currently accepting applications for the first round of one-year long artist residencies. If you are interested, you can find more information on their website and via their press release here.
Note from omg: It has been a pleasure providing these great stories for you all. I continue to be impressed with all of the great work happening on the East Side!