More than 7,000 people are expected to attend this year’s Artcrank party on Saturday, an annual one-day celebration of bike-inspired poster art, bikes and beer. Now in its 10th year, what began as a bright idea has become a tradition, an archive, a website and a business that’s always evolving.
Founded in 2007 by Charles Youel, Artcrank is about doing something you love, being open to change, making it work and staying excited. All of which Youel has done from the start.
For 2017, what’s old is new again. Instead of featuring 50 brand-new original posters by local artists, Youel backpedaled (sorry) and pulled 50 favorites from the first nine years for a “Greatest Hits” show. Instead of traveling the country and the world – at one point, there were Artcranks in multiple cities, including San Francisco, Portland, London and Paris – Minneapolis is the only event he has planned for this year.
We spoke with Youel earlier this week about Artcrank, where it has been and where it’s going.
MinnPost: How did Artcrank get started?
Charles Youel: I was searching for a creative outlet outside of my day job. I worked in advertising as a writer and a creative director, and a lot of my work was digitally based, building websites and doing banner campaigns and emails. I wanted to do something more analog, something focused on a subject I had more personal passion for. Cycling has been my thing since I learned to ride a bike. I had some notions around that, but they didn’t come together until I connected with Gene Oberpriller from One on One Bikes. We were standing together talking, and it just kind of hit me like a bolt from the blue: We should do a poster show about bikes! And I grabbed him by the shoulders and said as much, and we took off running from there.
He gave me a place to host the first show. As soon as I started putting the word out through my network of friends in the design and advertising business, I found a lot of people who were thrilled by the idea, and the roster of artists grew itself.
MP: It was a pretty good idea.
CY: Yeah. No one was more surprised than me. I knew that the Twin Cities has a thriving creative community on multiple fronts, and obviously it’s a very big bike town, but I didn’t know if those two worlds would overlap and play nicely. As it turns out, they do.
MP: Did you have any clue that one day you’d look back on 10 years?
CY: Not at all! I thought I would do one show in 2007, and that would be fun, and maybe a few people would show up, and then I would have to figure out something else. The idea that it would be not just an annual event in Minneapolis, but something we would make into a national happening and take overseas to the U.K. and France – that was something I could not possibly have wrapped my head around at the time.
MP: Then you grew.
CY: In 2013, we had 15 events in three countries. That sounded really cool, but it was absolutely exhausting. Trying to keep up that level of work and continue to grow the show exclusively through live pop-up events became overwhelming. At that point, we sat down – my wife [Nicki McCracken] and I, who’s my partner in this endeavor – and said, “What do we want to do with this? What are some other ways we can connect with the cycling and creative communities?”
We decided first that it was high time to launch an e-commerce site and be able to sell posters to anyone anywhere, as opposed to just people who were in the cities where we were doing pop-up shows. And to be able to work with artists from a greater number of places, since we’ve always featured local artists at our shows. We launched that site in 2015, and we’ve been scaling back the number of events ever since.
It’s a different business than it was at the height of things a few years ago, but it’s also one that I think in the long run is more sustainable. We’re looking into ways to rebuild that national and eventually international presence. We did a show in partnership with REI down in Bloomington last winter, kind of a winter-bike-themed show. That was a test case. We wanted to know – can we work with a retailer who has locations in multiple cities in the U.S. that are outdoors-friendly and bike-friendly? Could that eventually grow into a network of 5, 10, 15 shows? I think the model is there. It’s just a question of finding the right partner and the right way to make it work.
MP: Where else would you like to take Artcrank?
CY: There are a lot of places on my short list of dream locations. I’d love to take the show to Japan. There’s a very different commuting and racing cycling culture there, and creative culture, that I think would be a good fit with what we do. A country like China, where bikes are so much a part of everyday life, would be fascinating.
We’re in the beginning stages of talking with The Museum of Russian Art here in the Twin Cities about a show or exhibit that would be a combination of Russian and American artists working along a cycling theme. Given the political and cultural tenor of events right now, that seems like a pretty cool idea. It’s going to take a while to pull together in terms of finding the right group of artists, figuring out the logistics behind getting the work here, and creating an exhibit that can start in Minneapolis and ideally go other places. I think it’s a bigger idea than just one show.
MP: How did you choose the 50 posters for your “Greatest Hits” show?
CY: My wife and I looked at the posters that had been in the show from the start – somewhere between 400 and 500. We focused on two criteria. We looked at the ones that had been most successful in terms of sales, but we also looked at posters that stood out from a design standpoint – the ones we remembered without having seen them for years, that made us say “Yes! Of course that has to be in the show.”
We also wanted to honor some of the artists and work that helped put us on the map. Because certainly our audience now is very different than it was in the beginning.
MP: How is it different?
CY: It’s bigger, but it’s also broader. In the first few shows, we drew people from the two core communities that gave rise to the idea: avid cyclists and people who were active in the design community. Our audience has extended beyond enthusiasts to people who are just sort of casually connected to those communities – people for whom a bike is something they use to ride to work or go out with friends, and people who are connected to design because they appreciate stuff that looks cool. We wouldn’t have crowds of the size we’ve had for the last few years if we hadn’t succeeded in doing that.
MP: How many posters have been made for Artcrank, including all of the shows?
CY: We are probably close to 3,000 in our collection.
MP: Have you thought about doing a book?
CY: We have not only thought about doing a book. At the same time we were setting up the website, we were digitizing our entire poster collection through high-res scans, with the purpose of putting together a book or a series of books that trace the history of the show, not just in Minneapolis but overall. We have learned that getting a book created and published is basically a full-time job. So it’s happening slowly, but it is happening, and we’re not going to rest until we’ve accomplished it. If it’s the last thing we do with Artcrank, so be it, but it’s going to get done.
MP: Since you bike all the time, what is one thing Minneapolis could do to be a better biking city?
CY: This is going to be a really boring answer, but I think it’s more important than people realize: Mandate some level of bike rack or locking apparatus for businesses in the city. If I’m riding my bike around downtown, there’s probably a 10 percent chance that I’ll be able to lock it up securely in front of whatever building I’m going to. It’s better than it used to be, but that’s something I’d like to see put in the building code, especially for restaurants or shops or retail locations. If you’re going to do business in the city of Minneapolis, you have to have X percent of capacity for bike parking. I think that’d help everybody.
Artcrank takes place Saturday, July 8, from 4-10 p.m. at the Fulton NE Production Brewery. 50 original limited edition posters by local artists, $40 each. Free admission, free valet bike parking. Food trucks. 2540 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis. FMI.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tonight (Friday, July 7) at Highpoint Center for Printmaking: Opening reception for “Hot Off the Press: The 31st Cooperative Exhibition.” There’s no better place to see a lot of good prints and spring for one or more to bring home; tonight is also the show’s one-night-only 20 percent off sale. More than 70 works by 36 local printmakers, all members of Highpoint’s studio cooperative, were selected by the curatorial committee to be on display. Printmaking methods represented include lithography, relief, intaglio, screenprinting, monotype and polymergravure. Reception 6:30-9 p.m. Free. The exhibition continues through Aug. 26.
Saturday at Form+Content Gallery: Opening reception for “I’m Here: Art in the Service of Memory.” As artist-in-residence for the Wilder Foundation’s Adult Day Health program. Sandra Menefee Taylor works with people experiencing some form of cognitive memory loss. This exhibit gathers paintings, drawings and artist books created over a decade by people who never thought of themselves as artists but found joy in telling stories, solving problems and experiencing a new sense of themselves. Reception 6-8 p.m. Conversation with Taylor and the Wilder Foundation’s Sue Ryan at 7 p.m. Free, but donations to support the program are welcome. The exhibition continues through Aug. 12.
Sunday at the Dakota: Ginger Commodore Quartet. The beloved jazz vocalist plans to use Sunday’s Dakota date as a pre-celebration of Rondo Days, in honor of the African American neighborhood in St. Paul that was destroyed when I-94 was built in the late 1960s. (This year’s Rondo Days are July 11-15.) “We will talk about the community,” she messaged us. “I haven’t cemented the songs yet, but we will be doing songs that reflect people and places in the community. We’ll reference Penumbra [Theatre] with ‘Send in the Clowns,’ and Arnellia’s with a blues tune. Songs like ‘What’s Going On’ will reference the situation concerning Philando Castile. Other community leaders will be referenced with songs by Robert Flack, John Legend and Donny Hathaway.” With Adi Yeshaya on piano, Mark Weisberg on bass, Bobby Commodore on drums and Deevo Dee on guitar. 7 p.m. $8 cover at the door, or reserve by calling 612-332-5299.
Monday and Tuesday at Nautilus Music-Theater: Rough Cuts. Two nights of peeks into new-musicals-in-progress, performed in two different spaces. Monday: Excerpts from “The Lady with a Lapdog,” adapted by Daniel Pinkerton from a Chekhov short story about summer seaside romance, with music by Robert Elhai. Where: Nautilus’ black box in Lowertown (the first floor of the Northern Warehouse, 308 Prince Street). Tuesday: Excerpts from “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a female-driven retelling of the classic hero’s journey, conceived by Laurel Armstrong and written by Megan Burns, with music by Natalie Nowytski. Where: The Music Building Choir Room at Augsburg (23rd Ave. at Riverside in Minneapolis). 7:30 both nights. $5 or pay-as-able. Seating is limited. Free cookies and milk are served.
Tuesday at Magers & Quinn: John Toren presents “All the Things You Are.” Reading John Toren’s essays is like talking with a smart, well-read, observant, thoughtful friend with an open mind and generous spirit. Conversational in style, each spins out an experience, a line of thinking, a memory and/or a series of observations. Even though the first sentence of the first essay reads “In Plato’s ‘Thaetetus’ Socrates expresses the belief that philosophy is rooted in wonder,” which might make you think, briefly, “Uh-oh,” there’s not a pinch of pretension anywhere in this collection, which explores the links between music and life, sometimes obviously and sometimes obliquely. Toren is a Twin Cities-based writer, so his book is also full of local references: to Northern Spark, Warren MacKenzie’s pottery, Art-A-Whirl, singing with the Oratorio Society, Lake Harriet, running into poet Robert Bly. 7 p.m. Free.
On the radar
The Ramsey Hill House Tour is a rare event, taking place every two years. So if you miss this one, you’ll have a long wait until the next. The 2017 tour is called “Treasures of Ramsey Hill,” and it will be one of the largest since 1972, the founding year. From 3-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14, you’ll be invited into more than 10 historic homes and public spaces including the Burbank Livingston Griggs Mansion; the 476 Summit Ave. Haunted House; 35 Summit Ave.; 421 Summit Ave.; 385 Portland Ave. and more. Built in the 1800s and early 1900s, all are magnificent architectural specimens and living proof of lots of TLC. The tour is self-guided, and the only risk (to you) is lingering too long at some of the houses and running out of time to see the others. FMI and tickets ($30).