Dress warmly but think ice: the Art Shanty Projects are back

Arts / Article

Below-zero temps be damned – get out your warmest gear and plan to spend a weekend outdoors this month, because the art shanties are back. This year, the biannual midwinter arts festival has moved from its longtime home on Medicine Lake to the east metro, relocating just north of St. Paul to the frozen expanse of White Bear Lake.

The Art Shanty Projects were founded in 2004 by artists Peter Haakon Thompson and David Pitman as a creative riff on the temporary ice fishing villages that pop up each winter on Minnesota’s frozen lakes. And the art shanties continue to be, at essence, artist-driven experiments in art- and community-making, a fanciful celebration of regional character and the cold season traditions we hold dear here in the Upper Midwest. The motley assortment of artist-made ice houses that gather on the frozen lake every two years amount to an ephemeral but tight-knit community of creative folks and workaday citizens, established with the express mission of exploring how “relatively unregulated public spaces can be used as new and challenging artistic environments to expand notions of what art can be.”

Photo courtesy of the Art Shanty Projects

Over the years, the month-long festival has become a beloved, hugely popular attraction – nearly 20,000 visitors are expected to join in the festivities over the course of the Art Shanty Projects’ four-weekend run. The shanties are by turns clever, whimsical and surreal. Nearly all involve an element of hands-on participation.

For the 2014 iteration of the festival, 20 art shanties were selected for inclusion; about 200 artists in all are expected to participate. The offerings are varied: Burn off some calories by getting a groove on in the Dance Shanty, or by cycling across the lake aboard the giant, human-powered Pedal Bear. There’s a Jigsaw Shanty for puzzle-fans, and a Music Box Shanty full of homemade instruments if you (or your little ones) want to make a joyful noise. Visit an elegant snowdrift-inspired installation to learn the basics of curling, then step inside the darkened confines of another structure to share an intimate, simulated sunrise. Make clay animals in the “makeshift barn boat” of the Noah’s Art Shanty. Take a seat in the surreal lobby space of the Elevator Shanty. There are puppet shows, live music performances, “Snowga” (yoga in snowsuits) and much more. Dress warmly, and make a day of it. (Here’s a full list of this year’s shanties and participating artists.)

"Snowga" squats at the Meta Shanty. Photo courtesy of Art Shanty Projects.

“Snowga” squats at the Meta Shanty. Photo courtesy of Art Shanty Projects

The 2014 Art Shanty Projects are open weekends, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from February 1 to February 23, located about 1,500 feet offshore on White Bear Lake. (Find directions and access information here.) For a regularly updated calendar of events, and more information about each of this year’s shanties, visit artshanties.com.