By Scott Carlson
Angela Casselton recently became executive director of the Creative Enterprise Zone, returning to the nonprofit world and an organization known for facilitating wall murals in south St. Anthony Park.
Casselton’s new job draws on her art and business experience. A native of Zumbrota and graduate in studio art and communications from Concordia College in Moorhead, Casselton served as a research assistant for the Plains Art Museum, which led to an almost decade-long career at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
In 1998, Casselton left arts and began a 20 plus year career in in marketing and sponsorship at the Star Tribune Media Company and the Minnesota Historical Society.
The Bugle conducted this Q and A with Casselton to get her thoughts about the CEZ and what she hopes to accomplish. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: What is your interest in the CEZ and why did you want to become the executive director?
A: I started with the CEZ as a fundraising consultant for the inaugural Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival in 2019. That role expanded into managing the festival and more recently the 2020 Summer Mural Project. I didn’t set out to lead the organization but learned through direct experience the challenges and opportunities for an all-volunteer, board-led organization.
I feel a connection to the people and places of the Creative Enterprise Zone, and its mission to attract and support creative people and businesses to #MakeItHere. It has been rewarding to help the CEZ become more visible through murals and I am equally excited about our work around real estate development. CEZ founder Catherine Reid Day is a mentor and friend. I look forward to continuing her legacy.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish?
A: The CEZ in 2021 will focus on real estate and public spaces, which includes a summer-long 2021 Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival. We are excited to launch a new $200,000 Neighborhood STAR loan and grant program, open to CEZ businesses for capital improvements. Applications will be available online on our website at creativeenterprisezone.org starting Jan. 4.
Q: What are the greatest challenges ahead for you and the CEZ?
A: Change in the CEZ district is inevitable. The CEZ organization was born from disruption (during light rail construction in 2009). We know that together we can apply imagination, creativity and innovation to become a thriving, equitable and just community of economic and environmental well-being. I intend to continue the CEZ’s strong reputation for getting things done.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the CEZ?
A: We began 2020 with a great deal of momentum and ambition until the shutdown in March. We were forced to postpone the 2020 Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival, release our partners and funders from their commitments and watch as contracts for our commercial real estate services dried up. Then the city burned (in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests) and we awoke to a new understanding of historical trauma.
By June, we decided to use support from two funders to employ local artists and vendors affected by the economic downturn. By adding six new outdoor murals over the summer, we continue to improve the long-term beauty, vitality, safety and walkability of the CEZ. We celebrated with our first Outside Open House in October, and continue to promote self-guided, socially distanced tours of the 24 plus murals using the map on our website.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year 2021?
A: I believe in small acts for big impact. I like to implement, even if it’s just the first steps moving us to a bigger goal. For example, we know our community would benefit from a larger tree canopy to offset a high heat index, and new parklets that connect us with the outdoors and each other.
With proper funding and resources, we hope to move toward these larger ideals by piloting a Public Spaces initiative around gravel-bed tree nurseries this spring, giving us the means to grow, harvest and plant new trees in the CEZ.