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Teens participating in the summer youth program.Photograph by Kate Greve

When Open Book, the Minnesota book and literary arts building, opened in spring 2000, Poets & Writers magazine called it a collaboration "unlike any other in America."

The 50,000-square foot space covering four floors is home to three nonprofit organizations-- The Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Milkweed Editions, a literary publisher--as well as two tenants, Ruminator Books and the Coffee Gallery. The literary references are everywhere, from the signature steel staircase designed to resemble the riffling pages of a giant book to the stone tables inscribed with prose in the commons where writers and readers gather before and after writing classes and book discussions.

Before Open Book, the Loft had rented space above a bookstore, and a community center. Moving to a larger and permanent space allowed the organization to offer more classes and to expand its reach beyond adults. In its first year in Open Book, the Loft's class enrollments grew by 78 percent.

But the Loft's move to permanent digs is not just about more writing classes. The new space also features a book club room and balcony used for the center's own book club as well as for community groups; a literary commons that practically begs writers and readers to linger; a 200-seat performance hall, meeting rooms and a resource library. Six writers' studios with great city views offer an alternative space, says the Loft's Sarah Anderson, for "people who can't write when there are dishes to be done, people finishing their second novel, freelance writers who use the space as their office, and people who are primarily readers who want to try their hand at writing."

Open Book also was created to be a catalyst for collaboration and presentation with book-oriented and arts institutions throughout the region, meeting the needs of the wider community as well. For instance, more than a dozen book clubs rent the facility for their monthly discussions.

On any given day, the building is filled with both novices and masters working at letterpress printing, hand book binding and papermaking; participants in the Loft's contemporary fiction book club; admirers of the buildings' rotating exhibitions of book related art; and writers negotiating book deals. "We selected the name 'Open Book' in part to underscore that this facility is open to anyone who loves books in all of their many facets...from printing and bookbinding to writing, reading and publishing," said Jay Cowles, Open Book's Board President.