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Art Shanty Projects: Making a whimsical community on frigid Lake Harriet

Art Shanties on Lake Harriet from the sky, Friday afternoon before Opening Day.
MinnPost photo by Helen Heyer-Walsh
Art Shanties on Lake Harriet from the sky, Friday afternoon before Opening Day.

It felt like Polar Vortex III walking across Lake Harriet Saturday afternoon, as a howling wind worthy of any Swedish horror film roared through, around, and into the couple dozen ice houses, saunas, and art shanties set up on the frozen lake surface. The occasion was the wacky, whimsical, and way cold Art Shanty Projects, which happens Saturdays and Sundays (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) through Feb. 9 on the frozen tundra of Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis. 

Opening day was met with subzero temps and a smattering of several hundred hardy souls, who warmed up with food and drink trucks before trekking to the middle of the lake. “’Exhilirating’ is definitely the word of the day,” said artist Kat Morgan, who spent her afternoon pedaling art lovers around on a tiny tour bus. All in all, it felt like a Kevin Kling-curated cast of Minnesota artists, goofballs, and joi-de-vivrers that will be gone in just a few weeks. MinnPost took in the 2020 edition of the Art Shanty Projects, in photos and interviews:

The best path to the Art Shanty village is from the Lake Harriet bandshell.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The best path to the Art Shanty village is from the Lake Harriet bandshell.

Volunteer Maggie O’Connor helmed the Art Shanty survey booth with her spouse, Linda Ridelhuber. “What’s my favorite thing about Art Shanty?” said Ridlehuber. “It gets me excited about art; I feel welcome in the community; it gets me outside in winter, and it’s accessible to me and my peoples. Getting outside in winter is definitely [helpful] for mental health.”

The Pollinator Shanty
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
People standing in line on a frozen lake in sub-zero temperatures, waiting their turn to look at an exhibit on bees, monarch butterflies, and spring (The Pollinator Shanty).
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Drew Smith, Isaac Hase-Raney; Austin Watanabe of the Flora Sauna. Watanabe: “It was definitely a collaboration; we all went to school together around the same time at the University of Minnesota, and all of our projects had to do with plants and making a space and utopia. So this is a culmination of a lot of those things.” Smith: “We wanted to make a greenhouse on the ice. Something you wouldn’t think is possible or a smart thing to do, [but] sort of to take on the craziness of the Art Shanty weekend.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Isaac Hase-Raney outside the Flora Sauna: “There’s two communities here at Art Shanties. The artist community here is very self-supportive. A lot of us have different skills we can share; there’s a lot of carpenters who can teach others who want to build something but might not have that skill set; and there’s the community of people who are visiting. People are very interested in the shanties, people are very interested in each other, and people end up having conversations about all sorts of things.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Art Shanty Projects revelers played lacrosse, flanked by a display touting the game as “baaga’adoweewin” (in Ojibwe) and “thakapsicapi” (in Dakota), and a sign stating: “Lacrosse is the original game of this land and has been played here for hundreds of years. The drawing shown here is from early 1800’s, and is of a Dakota game near Bde Unma (Lake Harriet).”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

At the First Avenue/-7th Street Entry shantyMax Irons and Allison Kieley hung out by the club’s velvet rope outside and danced to a deejay spinning Prince’s “Kiss” on the dance floor inside (next photo). “I was looking for an excuse to get outside today, despite the weather,” said Kieley. “I’ve been feeling a little cooped up; it takes a certain kind of crazy to get out here and enjoy the weather and meet some new people and try some new things.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kat Morgan: “Jeff Sherman made this, built at our studio around a pedal bike we inherited. It’s freezing, but exhilarating. We’ve been taking people around on our Shanty Village Tour Bus, and it’s really a workout. Kids love it. There’s a couple spots where the wind is against us, and that makes turning the corner rough, but ‘exhilarating’ is definitely the word of the day.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Art Shanty fan Julia Mullin: “We just skied over, from Harriet Avenue over by Washburn High School. I wanted to get out of the house, I wanted to ski, and we wanted to see the Future Forest-Love Your Regional Parks shanty because my husband works for the Regional Parks.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Singer/songwriter Howard Kranz sang about dinosaurs and the climate crisis at The Shanty of People Who Know Things: “It’s an unusual gig because you’re in the middle of a lake, but we’ve got one of the warmer shanties around here, so it’s a good place to be. It’s a good gig.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Robin Agency (Sarah Honeywell) and The Leader (Sam Granum): “The name of our shanty is ‘NautiCult: A Cautionary Tale’ (about a shipwrecked crew entombed on the ice of Lake Harriet) because we are totally not a cult,” said Agency. “’Cult’ is a name given to us by people like you in the media who are full of lies and are trying to besmirch our name. We are a simple lifestyle, and we will provide people with the truth,” said The Leader. “The truth is we don’t need oxygen, we can all live under the water,” said Agency. “The mermaid’s power flows through me to you all,” said The Leader.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Josephine Anderson, Andrea Pierre, Millicent Anderson: “I’ve been to Art Shanties in previous years with my kids, and we were coming from roller skating at the Roller Gardens, and I just said to the kids, ‘Let’s see if they’re open yet, and here we are.’ This [MinneSauna shanty] is amazing,” said Pierre. “We [landed here] because we were freezing our ta-coochas off, and don’t ask me to spell ‘ta-coochas!’ We don’t want to leave. I’ve been reading about how saunas are taking a reemergence in Minnesota, and I can’t afford the healing, but I can go to the Art Shanties, right?”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Gabriel Bodkin (inside) and Alex Schluender: “The name of our shanty is Glass Half ____,  and it can be glass half full or glass half empty, depending on how you interpret your world,” said Schluender. “We have a storytelling game here where someone writes a caption, another draws a picture, and the story goes on from there. It’s all about how things evolve over time, and how our story changes all the time based on how we change, like Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“We have six seeds of native pollinators and dispensers from each of the seeds,” said Grant McFarland, his breath turning to mist as it hit the frigid air. “I’m not from Minnesota, and I haven’t been to this event before, but there’s been a lot of support from everybody around keeping everyone warm and organized. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people have come out here in whatever degrees it is to see us. I do think it’s crazy but it’s super fun. You’re like, ‘Why not?’ And then you see everyone else doing it and you’re like, ‘I’ll be OK.’”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“The philosophy behind The Archive Of Apologies and Pardons is basically that if we have more practice taking responsibility for our actions and also naming them when we experience hurt, we will build our general capacity as a community to withstand conflict and to reduce shame and guilt and other emotions that can be a barrier to understanding how our actions affect others,” said Sami Pfeffer, one of three artists who constructed the art shanty. “It asks a lot of participants, and people are grateful for that experience, and many say how amazing it is to read other people’s apologies and pardons and see where their own experiences lie in other folks’ vulnerability and ability to forgive.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Matt Stark: “This is Rocky. He’s our pirate ship. Twin Cities Sailing Club, Lake Harriet Yacht Club, and Upper Minnetonka Yacht Club all got together and we try to fly the colors for sailing in the winter. It gives us a chance to work on carpentry and get cold together. A lot of these shanties are high concept art, but we just made a big dumb children’s toy out here.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Jeff Berg: “This is our fourth time being out here at Art Shanty, and we’re all about play; we want people to play and have fun. Spectra Gigs is an experiment with color and sound together, and we’ve got two installations going on. People stand in front of it and interact with the color and the light and the feeling that they get from it, and then over there is what we’re calling the Spectra Galaxy, and you go inside there and transform the universe.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Craig Poorker on 01/21/2020 - 03:48 pm.

    Awesome! Looking forward to bringing the grandkids this weekend!

  2. Submitted by Polly Talen on 01/26/2020 - 08:51 am.

    This is an absolutely fantastic free event for families, singles and kids of all ages. Find a kid to go with you or go by yourself. People are so friendly and genuinely delighted to be there it feels like a celebration of the best of Minnesota: community spirited, creative, playful and celebrates winter. This year I went on Saturday (1/25) and it was about 35 degrees so balmy compared to the temps described in the article. Dress for the temps, wear boots as it is on a lake after all and be patient with parking. You may have to walk a few blocks. Though you can purchase snacks, consider bringing your own to help your kids last longer. There is so much to see and play around with you won’t want to leave once you get there.

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