Find Your Voice at IFP Minnesota

Just to the right of the door that leads into the Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota (IFP MN), nine neon letters spell the word “Dreamland,” a multi-font and colorful nod to the century-old building’s former life as a mattress factory and the burgeoning campus of creativity 550 Vandalia has become.

One year ago, the nonprofit media arts organization moved from a cramped space on University Avenue and Highway 280 to Vandalia Tower. The name for the seven-building complex at Vandalia Street and Wabash Avenue was inspired by the former King Koil factory’s old water tower, which still stands at the center of the development.

IFP’s new space offers three classrooms, four screening rooms, a state-of-the-art film-editing lab and the Marsden/Gustafson Gallery, a tribute to the late Ann Marsden and Gus Gustafson, esteemed photographers whose work was part of the Twin Cities arts scene for decades. IFP offers exhibit space and technical support for both beginning and professional filmmakers, summer camps and after-school classes for youth, and sponsors monthly Cinema Lounge screenings of locally made short films, regular photography exhibitions and the Film Independent Spirit Awards Screening Series at the Walker Art Center.

“We are here for people to tell their stories, wherever they are,” says Andrew Peterson, executive director.

Indeed, IFP MN offices are decorated with posters of movies on which former students have worked, including the 2005 film “Sweet Land” (directed by longtime IFP MNmember Ali Selim from a short story by Minnesota author Will Weaver) and the award-winning “Dear White People” (filmed in Minnesota and edited at IFP MN). Peterson’s office is filled with posters from his own work: “Life During Wartime,” “Howl,” “Darling Companion” and “Thin Ice,” all films he helped produce.

Peterson, who joined the IFP staff in 2012, has an MFA in film from New York University, since 2003 has been the director of programming for the Provincetown International Film Festival held five days each June in Provincetown, Mass., spent a couple of years as director of theater operations at Sundance Film Festival in Utah and was vice president of production at Werc Werk Works in Minneapolis before joining IFP.

IFP’s facilities can be rented out for screenings, casting calls, script readings, receptions, fundraising events or meetings. The space spills out to a courtyard, anchored by IFP on the west and Lake Monster Brewing on the east, that can be used for a variety of events.

When the 29-year-old media group began looking for a new space a couple of years ago, the intent was to stay in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul. “We’ve been [in the CEZ] for quite a long time,” says Peterson. That longevity has led to partnerships with other artists and creative groups in the area.

As he talks about IFP’s new life at 550 Vandalia, Peterson uses the words “collaboration,” “connection” and “opportunity” to describe the relationships with other tenants in Vandalia Tower. St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) moved in not long after IFP. The nonprofit community media center operates five channels on the Comcast cable system and, like IFP, offers programming for teens and adults. Peterson says the two organizations are looking for ways to partner on projects. “We are trying to create a space where creative people find each other,” he says.

Elpis Enterprises, another nonprofit in the Tower, provides job training, work experience and job placement for homeless or precariously housed young people ages 16 to 24. IFP youth teamed up with Elpis to help create a film that tells the Elpis story. “Our kids made a documentary of their kids doing their work,” Peterson says.

IFP MN and many of its Vandalia Tower neighbors will open their doors for a CEZ #WeMakeItHere Happy Hour Thursday, Aug. 25, from 5 to 8 p.m. The happy hour will feature beer from Lake Monster Brewing and a coffee tasting from Bootstrap Coffee, a small craft roaster that distributes its coffee through home subscriptions and wholesale. A showcase of work from IFP and SPNN youth programs will be screened in the courtyard.

The main entrance to the Vandalia Tower complex is off of Wabash Avenue, not Vandalia Street, and that can be confusing to new visitors. Landscape artist Coal Dorius is planning an installation of way-finding art at the Aug. 25 event that will highlight the variety of enterprises and give attendees some navigation tools.  

The CEZ 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.

 

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.