Program Description

The purpose of the Cultural STAR fund is to promote cultural vitality and economic growth, particularly in the downtown Cultural District, by strengthening the arts and culture community.

Funding Goals 
Cultural STAR dollars, in total, are intended to:

  • Build and diversify audiences;
  • Promote a broad range of cultural offerings;
  • Produce a long-term impact; and
  • Leverage additional financial support.

The Cultural STAR Program will achieve the purpose by making grants and loans for projects and programs that: attract audiences; develop and improve cultural facilities; and build capacity of artists and cultural organizations.

Capital Project Program Description
The Cultural STAR Capital Project program provides loans and grants to purchase or upgrade physical assets such as buildings and equipment.  Projects will involve permanently affixed physical improvements or construction, purchase of real capital equipment or purchase of real property. The improvements must have an expected life of at least seven (7) year, and may not be removed from the project premises prior to the expiration of seven years without the prior written approval of city staff.  Examples of eligible expenses for capital projects may include (note: this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Purchase of permanently affixed equipment (lighting board, sound equipment, curtains, etc)
  • Facility improvements to increase accessibility
  • Facility improvements or expansion to performance or office space
  • Public art (permanently affixed/placed murals, sculptures, lighting installations, etc)

Loans and grants are available for capital projects; grants alone are available for organizational development and special projects.

Geographic Focus

At least 80 percent of Cultural STAR funds will be awarded to nonprofit arts organizations that are located within the targeted area known as the Cultural District of downtown Saint Paul.

The Cultural District is defined as the geographic area bordered by Interstate 94 to the north, the Lafayette Bridge to the east, Harriet and Raspberry Islands to the south, and Chestnut Road to the west.

Cultural District Map

For a capital project to be considered in the Cultural District pool of funds, the project must be physically located within the Cultural District.

The remaining 20% of funds may be allocated to:

  • For profit businesses located in the Cultural District for projects that enhance visitor enjoyment of the Cultural District; or
  • Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations that propose projects located in Saint Paul but outside of the Cultural District.

For any project to be eligible for Cultural STAR funding, it must take place within the boundaries of the City of Saint Paul.

Estimated available funding in 2019


 In Cultural District

Other Funds

Round One



Round Two






Required Match

Cultural STAR funds must be matched dollar for dollar. This is considered a minimum match, with preference given to projects that exceed this requirement. The match can be other grants, individual donations, general operating funds, earned revenue you expect from the project, project or event sponsorships, or a combination of these.

The minimum grant request is $5,000. For example, if you are requesting $5,000 in funding, you must secure $5,000 from other sources, for a total project budget of at least $10,000.

See more details in the Project Funding Section.



  • Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations
  • Businesses located in the Cultural District (see Cultural District Map at the bottom of this page) applying for capital projects that enhance visitor enjoyment of the Cultural District
  • City departments or divisions are eligible when in partnership with an eligible organization


  • Churches and religious organizations
  • Condo associations
  • Political parties and related political action groups
  • Federal, state, and county agencies and departments

Capital Project Requirements

  • All capital improvement projects must have site control. This may take the form of a long-term lease (seven years or more) or ownership of the property where the project will be completed.
  • Requests for public capital improvements that are defined by City policy as "above standard" will require a legally-binding and enforceable plan for maintenance and/or operation over the useful life of the improvements. “Public” capital improvements are those that are made on public land, property or facilities, such as boulevards, sidewalks, public buildings, public parks/plazas, etc.
  • The same or similar proposal cannot be submitted to more than one of the following programs in any one funding cycle (calendar year): the Capital Improvement Budgeting (CIB) program, the Neighborhood STAR program, and the Cultural STAR program.

Application cycle rules

Saint Paul-based nonprofit arts and cultural organizations located outside of the Cultural District:

  • Organizations may receive grant funding up to two times per calendar year – one of these projects must take place outside of the Cultural District and the other must take place in the Cultural District.
  • Organizations may apply twice per round or once in each round. If applying twice in one round, one project must take place outside of the Cultural District and one project must take place in the Cultural District.

For all other organizations (i.e. those that are located In the Cultural District or outside of Saint Paul):

  • Organizations may apply for only one Cultural STAR program funding type (either Special Projects and Organizational Development or Capital) during each funding round.
  • Grants can only be received once per calendar year.

For all organizations:

  • Organizations that have received Special Projects and/or Organizational Development grants in three consecutive grant cycles (calendar years) cannot receive another Special Project and Organizational award in a fourth year. These organizations are allowed to apply for the Capital Project program in that fourth year.

Project Funding - Eligible Expenses and Match Requirements

The minimum grant request is $5,000. The request must be matched dollar for dollar (see Matching Funds Requirements section below for details).

There is no maximum request for Capital Project Loans and Grants.

The Cultural STAR Board may choose to recommend a lower grant award amount from what is requested by the applicant, but no lower than the minimum grant amount of $5,000.

The same or similar proposal cannot be submitted to more than one of the following programs in any one funding cycle (calendar year): the Capital Improvement Budgeting (CIB) program, the Neighborhood STAR program, and the Cultural STAR program.

It is unlikely that the Board will recommend repeat funding for the same project in future cycles.

What this program funds / how you can use the grant funds:

  • Direct capital costs of the project.
  • Up to 20% of Cultural STAR funds may be used for direct project costs that specifically pertain to the execution of the capital project, sometimes referred to as “soft costs”.
    • Examples:  Building permits; design fees; engineering, soil testing, environmental, legal, financing, licensing, and inspection fees; developers’ fees; acquisition and demolition costs; utility relocation and construction; construction costs including loan and interest fees.

What this program does not fund:

  • Activities located outside the City of Saint Paul
  • Projects that take place before the Project Start Date, which is defined as:
    • The date of the capital project starting
    • The date on or after which incurred expenses that are charged to the Cultural STAR grant are allowed
  • Projects that extend past the Project End Date, meaning that the activity must be completed by the Project End Date, and no expenses can be incurred after the Project End Date.
  • Use of STAR funds to develop a STAR proposal or organize an entity to manage a STAR proposal
  • General operating expenses, or organizational development or special projects expenses.
  • Payment for the applicants’ own labor for construction or improvements (may be used as a match)
  • Refinancing existing debts.
  • Major public improvement projects (e.g., street repaving, sewer work, recreation centers, etc.)
  • Duplication of a current City program or facility.

Matching Fund Requirements

Cultural STAR funds must be matched dollar for dollar. This is considered a minimum match, with preference given to projects that exceed this requirement.

Applicants are encouraged to fund project administrative expenses with other resources (e.g., , foundation grants, cash donations, etc.) and to use these funds as part of the match.

Eligible Matching Fund Sources may include direct and indirect financial resources such as:

  • Private expenditures for physical improvements
  • Grants or contributions from sources such as foundations, corporations and other government entities, including county, state, and federal funds
  • Local lender commitments
  • In-kind services from individuals and businesses such as personnel, professional services, office space, supplies, volunteer labor and sweat equity for physical improvements (Up to 30% of the total match, valued at $15/hour)
  • Additional City funding (CDBG, TIF, CIB, and HRA funds) may be used as a match only if the funds are in the form of a payback loan. 

The following funding sources cannot be counted as part of the Matching Funds requirement:

  • City forgivable loans or grants. 
  • Volunteer meeting time
  • In-kind service donations from the applicant organization such as already existing office space, phone service, etc.  – In-kind donations from parties other than the applicant are eligible.

The Cultural STAR Board has the discretion to recommend approval of other matching contributions on a case-by-case basis.  The Cultural STAR Board may consider exceptions to the match requirement in highly unusual cases.

Fiscal Sponsorship Requirements

The Cultural STAR Program accepts applications from informal and / or unincorporated arts-focused groups using a fiscal sponsor. A fiscal sponsor is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that receives Cultural STAR grant monies and manages the financial aspects of the project on behalf of a group that does not have tax-exempt status. Groups or artists in the district that are incorporated as for-profit entities (LLC, etc) MUST apply directly to the Cultural STAR program, without a fiscal sponsor.

Fiscal Sponsorship guidelines:

  • 100% of the applicant’s project must take place in the Cultural District.
  • The fiscal sponsor must be a 501c3 nonprofit arts organization located in Saint Paul.
  • The applicant must have a board of directors or advisory committee (not the board of the fiscal sponsor) that provides input on, and oversight of, the project.
  • The applicant must provide a letter of intent from the fiscal sponsor regarding the application to the STAR program. The letter must include the amount or percentage of the fiscal sponsorship fee (if any).
  • The applicant should include the fiscal sponsorship fee (if any) as part of their project budget.
  • The City will contract with the fiscal sponsor on behalf of the grantee. All City checks will be to the fiscal sponsor, who is the legal entity that the City has contracted with for each project.
  • The City will require a Fiscal Sponsor Agreement between the fiscal sponsor and the grantee as an attachment to the contract.

A 501c3 may serve as fiscal sponsor for multiple projects in any STAR round; the board will consider the project, organization or group and its advisory board with the same criteria as all other STAR applicants.

Application Process

Applications must be submitted through the online application website Zoomgrants by 4:00 PM on the deadline date.  Applications not received by this time will not be accepted.

  • The Round 1 application will be available on by January 17, 2020 at
  • For Round 2, the application will be available on by July 17, 2020 at
  • Be sure to read all sections of the Zoomgrants application, including instructions, requirements, etc.
  • Your application must include all required materials.  All questions must be answered. Incomplete or inaccurate materials may result in your application being ineligible.

Information Sessions will be held at the beginning of each application round to provide program information to prospective applicants.

City staff is able to provide technical assistance to applicants to help insure a complete and viable application.

Overview of ZoomGrants Application

  • “Application Summary” tab

    • Project name and amount requested
    • Applicant Information
    • Organization Information
  • “Application Questions” tab
    • Project Summary (questions 1-4)

      • Embed a short YouTube video of your project if you’d like
      • Type of Cultural STAR application (i.e. Special Projects, Organizational Development, Capital)
      • Brief project summary
      • Organization entity type and fiscal sponsor information
    • Capital Project Questions (questions 5-8) – questions will not show up if not a Capital Project
    • Detailed Project Information (questions 9-14)
      • Details about your project, including location, schedule, and anticipated audience description.
    • Narrative Questions (questions 15-17)
    • Organization Information (questions 18-25)
      • Details about organization type, operating budget, employees, patrons, past City financial support
  • “Project Budget” tab
    • Project Income
    • Project Expenses
    • Project Budget Narrative
  • “Required Application Documents” tab
    • Applicant Description
    • Board of Directors/Advisory Committee
    • Organizational Income and Expense Statements for the past three years
    • Tax Status Documentation
    • Audited Financial Statements (or form 990) for most recent fiscal year
    • Letter of intent from Fiscal Sponsor, if applicable
    • Supporting documents (optional)
    • Photos/drawings for capital projects (optional)

Instructions for Narrative Question 15

Question 15. Provide a narrative of your proposed project in about 300 words (no more than 2000 characters), addressing the four Cultural STAR criteria, as listed in the guidelines: Impact, Quality, Ability, and Diversity.

The following questions are designed to help you address the criteria. It is not necessary to respond to all of the bullets. Please provide enough information to help the Board evaluate your project in relation to each of the four criteria.  The Board will apply all criteria to the application as a whole.

Impact – When describing the impact of your project, consider questions such as:

  • Describe the problem, opportunity, issue or need that your capital purchase/improvement is intending to resolve?
  • Why, given all the ways your group could use capital, have you decided on this project? What is compelling about this situation?
  • How will addressing this important opportunity/need by making this capital purchase or improvement have a significant, long-term impact on your organization?
  • How might this project enhance your ability to broaden or strengthen your cultural offerings?
  • How will STAR dollars leverage additional financial support?

Quality – When describing the quality of your project, consider questions such as:

  • Who are, or will be, the project leaders? How were, or will, they be selected?
  • What background or experience do your group, consultants, and project leaders bring to this project to ensure quality?
  • If you are purchasing equipment, describe how you arrived at purchasing this particular equipment.
  • What are your project goals? What is the outcome you plan to achieve? What mechanism will you use for evaluating the success of this project? How will you know when you are done? How will you know if this project is a success?

Ability – When describing your ability to undertake the project, consider questions such as:

  • Describe the planning process for your project.
  • In what ways will your board of directors or advisory committee be involved?
  • What experience does your organization have that demonstrates the capacity for successfully completing this project?
  • What is the timeline for your project?
  • What other financial support do you expect for this project?

Diversity – When describing diversity, consider questions such as:

  • How will this project add to your ability to diversify the cultural offerings in Saint Paul?
  • How might this project lead to an enhanced ability for you to build and diversify audiences?
  • As you consider your project’s goals, describe how diversity is represented in your project (e.g., among your board of directors or advisory committee and/or project personnel).

Review Process

The selection process for proposals is highly competitive. The number and size of grants made is dependent on the quality of the proposals and availability of funding.

Role of the Cultural STAR Board

The nine-member Saint Paul Cultural STAR Board serves as the formal review body that serves in an advisory role and recommends to the Mayor the grants and loans to be funded from the Cultural STAR program each round in a program cycle (two rounds per calendar year).  The Board may choose to recommend a lower grant award amount from what is requested by the applicant, but no lower than the minimum grant amount of $5,000.

The Mayor appoints all nine members of the Board in the required organizational categories for “staggered” three year terms, in accordance with Resolution #13-690. The current board member roster is posted on the Cultural STAR webpage:

The review process is as follows:

  1. Staff: City Staff will review applications for eligibility.  Ineligible applications will be removed from further consideration and the applicant will be notified.

Applicants will be contacted within one week of application deadline if corrections are needed to the application.

Deadline for entering corrections:

  • Round 1 – Friday, March 13, 2020
  • Round 2 – Friday, September 11, 2020
  1. Board Review: The Board will review all applications and give them scores, note questions they have about the application, and make other notes on the application
  2. Applicant Interviews with the Board: The Board will invite each eligible applicant to an in-person, 7-minute interview at a specified time on the scheduled interview dates. 

The purpose of the interviews is to provide updates on the project, and clarify questions that the Board has based on their review of the application.

The 2020 interview schedule is as follows:

  • Round 1 Interview Dates: Wednesday, April 9 - Thursday, April 10  and Thursday, April 16 - Friday, April 17

  • Round 2 Interview Dates: Monday, October 12 - Tuesday, October 13 and Thursday, October 19 - Friday, October 20

Applicants will be notified of the exact date and time for their interview.

Cultural STAR interviews are public meetings but no public testimony will be taken.  Individuals wishing to comment on applications are encouraged to submit their comments in writing to City staff prior to interviews.

  1. Board Deliberations: The Board will review the proposals based on program guidelines, merits, and fund availability and make funding recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.
  2. Mayor: The Mayor will review the Board’s recommendations, and present final recommendations to the City Council.
  3. City Council: The City Council will approve, deny, or amend the Mayor’s recommendations as a resolution at a public City Council meeting.

    The resolution will be on a City Council meeting agenda in May or June for Round 1, and in November or December for Round 2.

  4. Final approval: The Mayor will approve or veto the Council Resolution within a week of the Council vote.

The entire process usually takes about three months from application deadline to the signing of the resolution by the Mayor, but may take longer.

After the City Council approves the Mayor’s recommendations, staff will notify each Cultural STAR applicant if their project was awarded funding, and if so, for what amount. They will also notify awardees of other pertinent contracting information.

Expectations of Grant Recipients

Be sure to read these expectations thoroughly to make sure your organization and project can comply with all program requirements.

Requirements for Capital Projects

  • The property must be appropriately zoned, meaning the property must conform to use under the City Zoning Ordinance.
  • Health, safety and ADA items required by City building codes must be addressed.
  • For new construction, properties must be on legal buildable lots.
  • Prior to performing leasehold improvements, the tenant must obtain written permission from the building owner for the improvements.
  • Prior to project implementation, all necessary permits must be obtained.  Upon completion of improvements, the applicant must have followed, and the property must meet, all applicable code, permit, and license requirements.  Finally, the property must be properly inspected and must have a Certificate of Occupancy upon completion, if applicable.

How contracting works

The City of Saint Paul and the applicant (or the applicant’s fiscal sponsor) will enter into a contract for the period of the Project Start and End Dates. Contract requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • “Statement of Work” completed by the Grantee, which outline the following project details:

    • Finalized scope of work;
    • Location of activities;
    • Implementation timeline; and
    • Project budget outlining all funding sources (i.e. project revenue) that shows the 1 to 1 match requirement is met, and project expenses, including line items that will be charged to the Cultural STAR grant.
  • Certificate of General Liability Insurance naming City of Saint Paul as an Additional Insured and meeting insurance coverage requirements as follows:
    • Cultural STAR grants of $75,000 or less require a $1 million per occurrence and $1 million aggregate limits;
    • Cultural STAR grants of over $75,000 require a $1 million per occurrence and $2 million aggregate limits.
  • Signed “Acknowledgment of Receipt of Compliance Documents”
  • If applicable, attending a “pre-bid” meeting regarding Vendor Outreach Program (VOP) requirements. See more details in the Compliance Requirements section below.
  • If applicable, submission and certification of an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP). See more details in the Compliance Requirements section below

Implementation must progress as projected in the application.  Lack of progress is grounds for withdrawing funding.

Projects should be completed or self-sustaining within the period specified in the agreement.  Requests for contract extensions are discouraged.

STAR Fund Distribution

Cultural STAR funds can be disbursed for work that has:

  • been completed after STAR funding was approved by the Mayor and City Council;
  • been properly invoiced;
  • documentation of matching dollars spent on the project (if required); and
  • been approved by HREEO as meeting compliance requirements.

Final payment will be made only after the project is completed and a final project report and evaluation is received.

Cultural STAR loan funds with a mortgage and/or security agreement may also require a lien waiver and/or the use of a title company for disbursements

At the time of completion of all activities contained in the agreement or upon expiration of the agreement, project fund balances will be returned to the Cultural STAR Fund.

Eligibility to apply for future Cultural STAR Funding

A final project report is required to determine the extent to which the project was successful.  Project success will be measured against expected project outcomes and the overall objectives of the STAR Program. 

Organizations will not be eligible for future Cultural STAR funding until all required documentation, including this final project report, are submitted for the most recently closed projects. If a project is not scheduled to have been completed before another application round takes place, organizations will be eligible to apply for a new project in that round.

Compliance Requirements

Organizations receiving grants must comply with all federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations in connection with the project.

Staff will review the “Statement of Work” provided by the grantee to be included in the Grant Agreement, for any federal, state and local regulations and policies that will be required in how the funds are use.

Contract compliance regulations and policies may include:

  • Vendor Outreach Program (VOP) is a City ordinance that strives to maximize contracting opportunities for certified minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs), women-owned business enterprises (WBEs), and small business enterprises (SBEs). This program applies to projects with a total budget of over $50,000 (the total cost of conducting the project, including both the Cultural STAR-funded items plus the items funded by matching funds).

    • Certified vendors are listed here on our CERT database, and also available is a PDF document of the full list of certified Vendors.
    • Common STAR-supported project budget areas where VOP has been applied includes, but is not limited to, supplies, web design, signage, printing, and marketing.
    • Prior to selecting vendors to entering agreements with vendors to do work related to/on your project (ex: supplies, web design, signage), please first search the CERT Certified Vendor List ( to determine if there are any certified vendors that could met your needs. For questions regarding this, please call 651-266-8900.
  • Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) regulations apply to all grantees/vendors whose total accumulated City of Saint Paul contract awards exceed $50,000 within the preceding twelve months. If this requirement applies, the grantee must:
    • Develop an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) that would be certified by the City of Saint Paul for a fee of $75.
    • Maintain written records of all personnel activities and documentation of Good Faith Efforts to recruit and hire women, minorities, and people with disabilities.
  • Labor Standards apply to capital projects with a total project cost of $25,000 or more, and relate to hiring practices and wage rates paid to laborers. It is important to understand that compliance requirements may affect hiring practices and wage rates, so make no commitments prior to fully understanding these requirements. 

Staff will hold a compliance meeting prior to implementation of the contract to inform the grantee and contractor of the requirements, including compliance requirements and reporting.

Grant payments may be delayed due to lack of compliance meetings being held and required reporting by the grantee.

Compliance requirements can be reviewed on the City of Saint Paul’s Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity website (

Cultural STAR applicants are strongly cautioned to not make any vendor commitments until compliance requirements and funding regulations are fully understood.

View the Cultural District Map Find Your Ward and District Council

Last Edited: December 10, 2020