It’s January and the hype of the new year is fading. We’re settling in for some long, cold months, wearing multiple layers of wool socks, and cursing 4:30pm sunsets—or at least that’s what the rest of the country thinks we’re doing. In reality, we’re gearing up for weeks of outdoor playtime, like scampering through handmade art shanties across a frozen lake.
This winter marks the 11th year of the Art Shanty Projects’ On-Ice Program and many changes are afoot as the organization grows and evolves. The event was previously hosted by Medicine Lake (2004–2012) and White Bear Lake (2014–2017), and now finds a new home in Minneapolis on Lake Harriet (also known as Bde Unma). To kick off the new year in a new location, a special Welcome Shanty stands at the head of Shanty Village with arms open to visitors.
But with the new location come new challenges. The centrally-located lake, the surge of Super Bowl LII tourism, and other winter events coinciding (like The Great Northern and Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival) is expected to draw an unprecedented number of people to Shanty Village. Complicating setup is a restriction barring vehicles from driving on Lake Harriet, forcing all the shanties to be carried onto the ice rather than dropped by trailer.
Despite changes and challenges, Art Shanty Projects promises to be as enchanting, imaginative, and DIY as ever, thanks in part to the organization’s new membership program. In past years the organization relied on grants and private donations, but the board of directors recognized the need to stabilize funding in anticipation of future growth. The board reached out to the community with a Kickstarter campaign last fall and surpassed their $15,000 goal with over 200 members joining the cause.
Opening on January 20, this year’s event will feature 22 shanties by more than 80 artists (not to mention the countless friends, mentors, family members, and volunteers who lent a helping hand). Nineteen different live performances are scheduled over the course of four weekends and oddities like a human hamster wheel are on display throughout.
Some familiar sights return, like the Ghost Shanty, repurposed as The Department of Everything Else with live performances and dance parties inside. Others are brand new, like a huge, kinetic set of four swings called “The Thwing,” and “Get in Feel with your Touchings,” a “jaunty column [with] 36 hand portals of mystery!”
The shanty artists come from all ages with different interests and abilities—teachers, sailors, photographers, designers, architects, woodworkers, sculptors, weavers, painters, writers, singers, the list goes on. “None of the artists specialize in the medium of ‘shanty,’” said artistic director Lacey Prpić Hedtke. The fundamental appeal of Art Shanty Projects is that it’s “art with a lowercase ‘a.’”
Rather than fussing over refined aesthetics, the projects promote interactions, aiming to inspire conversation and appeal to visitors’ curiosity on topics both silly and serious. Artist Giuliana Pinto‘s “The Lonely Whale Shanty” is based on the calls that scientists have recorded from a single whale in the Pacific Ocean for over two decades now, and invites attendees to step inside the belly of this lonely whale.
Shanty artists are resourceful, collaborative, and perhaps a bit scrappy as deadlines approach, but their work is thoughtful and meant to be used.
The organization’s new Welcome Shanty falls under this umbrella. It was built by a group of students in a design/build class in the School of Architecture, part of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, led by three instructors (who are incidentally past shanty artists: Adam Jarvi, Sean Wagner, Sam Clausen).
The students completed the build by the end of the 2017 semester and Art Shanty staff are thrilled with the outcome. The new Welcome Shanty sits low to the ground for easy entry and exit. It’s narrow on one side, with a merchandise table and a spot for an Art Shanty staff member to sit, and opens its arms wide towards the interior of Shanty Village, beckoning visitors to wander in. The interior is brightly lit; two of the walls are giant pieces of polycarbonate that were lightly sanded to mimic the translucence of ice, and the other two are fully transparent. The exterior wood has been painted red, the same hue as the Art Shanty Projects logo. Each wall is two panels with a seam, and each panel is small enough to fit through standard residential door. The shanty is large, hospitable, modular, and may last five to 10 years.
The final Welcome Shanty not only met the requirements Marlaine Cox, Art Shanty Projects’ operations director, laid out, but embodies the Art Shanty ethos. Lead instructor Adam Jarvi, architect from NewStudio Architecture, said the class was often reminded that their job was not to build something slick and perfect, but to build something useful that represents the organization. They learned to work on the fly, take risks, and work together to put theory into practice.
Cox referred to the shanties as “laboratories for experimentation.” She described what it’s like to witness projects evolve: “[The artists] don’t always know how to build, but they have a crazy idea and argue with each other to get it done. They’re not afraid to fail.” The artists’ long-term process of ideating, proposing, designing, building, and performing is as much the reward as is the event itself. Hundreds of people get involved in the creative process for months at a time.
“These aren’t things that people ship off and have somebody else build, they’re all custom,” says Jarvi. “And it’s people’s—literally—blood, sweat, and tears. To see it out on the ice is a pretty spectacular thing.”
Art Shanty Projects will be on the ice on Saturdays and Sundays from January 20 through February 11, 2018. The full listing of shanties and scheduled performances are available at artshantyprojects.org. Metro Transit is sponsoring the event by offering an option for free transit on opening weekend, January 20 and 21. Peace Coffee will be there supplying warm java on January 20 and 27. The event will be on, rain, snow, shine, or blizzard.