Historic St. Paul Theater Finds New Life Serving Community

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The Victoria Theater Arts Center mission includes working against gentrification and police brutality.
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Tiffany Bui reports:

14 years after being saved from demolition, a historic theater in St. Paul is getting ready to open as a community art space.

The Victoria Theater Arts Center (VTAC) is in the final stretch of fundraising; staff say they anticipate opening in 2023.

However, they aren’t waiting for the official opening to start serving the Rondo and Frogtown neighborhoods. Executive Director Tyler Olsen-Highness said during the George Floyd protests, VTAC was providing plywood to protect businesses from property damage, and muralists to make them colorful.

“Up until that point, we had been a lot about the building itself, and like making the building happen, but I think those events said like, no, that's not enough right now … Right now, what our community needs is people to help organize it and resources to let creativity be a healing element for our community,” said Olsen-Highness.

During unsettling events, such as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, VTAC sets up murals outside the theater and invites people to come and process their feelings. Community coordinator Sydney Latimer says the Victoria Theater’s mission includes working against gentrification and abuses of power, like police brutality.

“The Victoria, for a lot of us, symbolizes a stance against that state abuse,” said Latimer, “and also the development that's displacing us. We will not be moved, and we will rebuild our communities from the ground up.”

The center is seeking to serve the diverse needs of a community where more than 26 languages are spoken. Staff say they want to especially focus on developing the talent of young artists.

“I see just such a reciprocity between, like social movement and art,” said Olsen-Highness. “This is the place where we're building tomorrow.”

As part of its commitment to serving youth, the center is assembling a youth advisory council to help guide its work.

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