Big creativity sometimes comes in small packages

By Kristal Leebrick

When Shannon Forney reflects on the Smallest Museum in St. Paul’s inaugural year, she zeroes in on the October 2015 installation: a micro-cinema complete with floodlights, seating and a film created by sculptor and installation artist Yousif Del Valle.

That minute, playful piece “illustrated the importance and relevance of art and transit and being open to new things,” Forney says, “and the transformative power of a tiny little exhibit.” 

The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, a vintage fire-hose-cabinet-turned-micro-museum just outside the doors of WORKHORSE Coffee Bar, 2399 W. University Ave., opened in June 2015. Since then, its rotating monthly exhibits have proven that even the smallest artistic venue can say something very big and very profound.

Come celebrate the museum’s first anniversary at the June Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) #WeMakeItHere Happy Hour Thursday, June 30, 2016, 6-8 p.m. at WORKHORSE. The happy hours are part of the CEZ Action Committee’s efforts to shine a light and support the creative work that happens in the Zone. The mixers are open to the public.

Del Valle’s theater featured a continuous viewing of his art film about the Green Line, a tribute to Auguste and Louis Lumière—the world’s first filmmakers known for their 50-second 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat—and a nod to the mass transit project just feet away from the museum. The clip examined the parallel between the fabled hysteria created when people first saw a fast-moving train bearing down on them in a theater more than a century ago and the anxiety that moved through the University Avenue corridor as light rail came in.

Now, the Green Line is a success story, Forney says. “We are a Green Line story.”

“We” are Forney and partner Ty Barnett, who opened WORKHORSE in May 2015 and held the grand opening of the museum a month later with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman cutting the ribbon. A $5,000 Knight Foundation grant funded a year of exhibits in the museum, many of which were created by CEZ and St. Anthony Park residents.

Exhibits have ranged from Sophie Durban’s tribute to the Witch’s Hat Tower in neighboring Prospect Park, complete with a Book of Shadows for visitors to sign with their own spells and incantations; Anne Jin Soo Preston’s miniature crocheted replica of the coffee shop that included “guerilla yarn-bombing” workshops leading up to the exhibit; and Abigail Allan’s “Frog Specimens,” which spurred an alliance with WORKHORSE and CEZ neighbor Twin Cities Reptiles. The 38-year-old reptile shop brought two exotic tree frogs as guests to the event, and it was “hands down the best artist reception we’ve had,” Forney says.

Forney worked in the CEZ for six years as program director at the Minnesota Regional Arts Council, 2324 W. University Ave., before recently taking the position of managing director at Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Hamline Midway.

“I was really excited that [WORKHORSE] would launch in a neighborhood known for its creativity and for seeking to attract creative people and creative minds,” Forney says.

The vintage fire-hose cabinet was icing on the cake.

“The first time I saw that cabinet, it reminded me of the Little Free Libraries—a little free art museum that could be accessed anytime,” she says.

Celebrate the first anniversary of the Smallest Museum in St. Paul and the CEZ on June 30, 2016. Angela Dimler’s photos of each exhibit will be on display, and there will be beer, wine and snacks (oh, and coffee).

Creative Enterprise Zone: “We Make It Here” is a project designed to celebrate and promote economic development in the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ), St. Paul’s recognized center of creativity and enterprise. The goals of “We Make It Here” are to build connections between creative enterprises and increase their visibility in ways that support businesses. This project is funded by the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Creative enterprises will be highlighted in the CEZ throughout 2016.