I've never been in Minnesota when the Art Shanty Projects have bee on, as it's usually in the depths of winter, and I've already returned to Venice from the holidays. This year, I'm here, it's on, and I finally got to go on what was maybe the coldest day of the year so far out on the ice of Lake Harriet.
The Art Shanty Projects are a big group art show out on the frozen lake, kind of like ice fishing houses that are all pop-up art galleries. I've read about it and seen photos for the last few years, have just been dying to go, and it was just as good as I thought it would be.
Art in public spaces is always at the top of my list (Art for Everyone!), and this experience is among the coolest - literally and figuratively. It's quintessential Minnesota for a whole bunch of people to come out on a freezing cold and super windy day to see art on the ice, and have a blast doing it.
It had snowed the night before, so there were shoveled off lanes to get to each of the structures in the Shanty Village. It was so cold you kind of had to hustle to each one to get inside and warm up before hitting the next one. In addition to the art shanties, there are also performances, games, and plein air painters out capturing it all.
As I was walking from one shanty to the next, a group of Russian babushkas (Nitka) strolled past, singing an enchanting folky song that made me feel like I was enjoying a Siberian winter.
A few of the shanties were working on time-slots, so I need to return to enjoy some of the ones I didn't get in to, like the Minnesauna! A five person sauna out on the lake! I love it so much.
There is an activist, educational vibe to several of the shanties (which is clearly all the way up my alley), and one of my favorites was the "Pollinator Shanty", all about creating gardens for pollinators to help save our Earth.
You could strap on a helmet and see through the eyes of a pollinator, you could learn about butterflies and what to plant to attract them, and create butterfly puppets. I loved all of that, but I especially loved the chimenea that warmed me up to get to the next one.
There was a rocking boat (Rocky the Rocking Sea Shanty) ...
And a giant kaleidoscope from Spectra Gigs you could stick your head into ...
There was a adult sized Lite-Brite shanty ...
Where inside you could move the pegs to create your own vision (while you kind of warmed up).
There was the excellent "Shanty Of People Who Know Things", showcasing the work and wisdom of people over 55 years old. Nice.
There was a Seed Bank, featuring the native plants of Minnesota (where you could take seed samples with you and plant them when all this ice melts) ...
There was an "Opticon", a camera obscura that showed you how that works and check out the sights outside on the ice ...
There was a shanty for you to show your love for our regional parks (for every five love letters written to the parks inside the shanty a tree will be planted!) ...
Another favorite was the Glass Half ______ Shanty, a factory for stories! The brightly painted shanty was already fun from the outside, but then you went to a roll of paper sticking out, where there was either a phrase or a picture, and you would either write a new phrase for the picture above, or vice versa.
You then went inside where the roll of paper is creating one long story - with pictures! - made by everyone who participates at this shanty.
It would be cool for them to make a real book out of it at the end of it all, because what I saw and read was pretty beautiful.
Another touching shanty was The Archive of Apologies and Pardons. You went inside and wrote an apology and a pardon for whatever you're feeling, then leave them behind inside among all the others, for a collective body of remorse. By writing both, you admit that you are capable of both receiving and committing harm. Split up into areas like "Sexism" and "Racism", it was very moving to see what people contributed, and it got very deep for a whimsical day on the ice. You could almost see the load come off some people as they emerged from the little hut.
One fun interactive one was Nauticault: A Cautionary Tale. Steampunk style explores have gotten their ship stuck in the ice of Bde Unma (Lake Harriet) and are in terrible need of rescue. They're desperate and need a guide to get them out to safety.
I played along, as they were looking for a mermaid to help, and we all know I am one (part-time). The lady inside said they needed a lock of mermaid hair, and I thought she was kidding, but she really did reach back and snip off a good inch of my hair. I can't really tell where it was (in the back), but they better get rescued if I gave up my real hair for the cause. Wow. Pretty sure I get the Good Sport Award from them.
Of all the shanties that I saw (and there are a few remaining that I still need to check out - like the one from our friends at the Franconia Sculpture Park!), it will come as no surprise that my favorite of them all was the -7 Degree Entry Danceteria (a play on our beloved 7th Street Entry at First Avenue).
If you were cool enough to be on the list (and I was SUPER COLD!), you went inside to see a full-on dance party, complete with D.J. spinning and a light-up dance floor!
A perfect way to get moving and warm up, I shared a song with a family with little kids, and we all just jumped around for a bit, laughing and smiling the whole time that we were at a dance party in an ice house on Lake Harriet! I could not have loved it more.
It was such a delight to see all the hearty people out enjoying art and fun and winter, despite the cold. Most of the men I saw had their facial hair full of icicles, but they were smiling. As was everyone. This super special spectacle is on weekends through February 9th, Saturday and Sunday from 10am- 4pm. It's a free event, but they ask for a $10-$20 donation to keep it going for years to come, yet no one will be turned away.
This is the perfect way to put a smile on your face in the dead of winter, and I hope everyone gets the chance to get there, because it will truly make your day. Thank you to all the artists, staff, volunteers, and Minnesota Nice people that make the Art Shanty Projects so cool! You're doing a wonderful thing.
Art Shanty Projects 2020
Weekends through February 9th
10 am - 4 pm
Lake Harriet (Bandshell side)