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Plan Bee

Nobody knows what’s killing off honeybees. But several Minnesotans are in the vanguard of the fight to save this vital species.



Hackensack, Minnesota, 45 miles north of Brainerd, is a north-woods burg too small to bother with a traffic light. The speed limit drops as State Highway 371 passes through town, but drivers who slow down for less than a minute on their way to Walker or the Northern Lights Casino would never guess that tiny Hackensack is home to a company generally recognized as the world’s largest supplier of products and equipment to a global industry.

The industry is beekeeping, and the company, Mann Lake Ltd., is housed in six steel buildings located on the outskirts of town. Its owners, Jack Thomas and his wife, Betty, founded Mann Lake in 1984, as a part-time hobby business.

Today, Mann Lake employs almost 100 people in Hackensack, and a dozen more at a California branch. It has customers around the world, and its product catalog runs to 123 pages—protective clothing, honey-collecting equipment, feed, medications, wooden frames to house honeybee colonies. The company also supplies commercial beekeepers with feed—high-fructose corn syrup, sold by the tanker truckload.

Thomas has reason to worry about the long-term prospects for his business: All over the globe, honeybees are dying en masse, victims of a mysterious malady called colony collapse disorder. To commercial beekeepers, CCD is devastating. For the rest of us, the implications are far graver than any possible shortage of honey or beeswax, potentially impacting most of the foods we eat. Which is why Jack Thomas, as well as researchers at the University of Minnesota, are scrambling to find a fix for the problem.

Colony collapse disorder was first recognized and named in the winter of 2006/2007, when beekeepers began to report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that 30 to 90 percent of their colonies had disappeared.

The next winter, things got worse. USDA apiary inspectors surveyed a large sample of America’s 1,500 commercial beekeepers and found that 36 percent of the country’s 2.4 million managed hives were lost. That’s a death rate 11 percent higher than in 2007 and 40 percent higher than in 2006.

The impact goes far beyond honey production. Pollination by honeybees is directly responsible for roughly a third of the food produced in the United States. Corn, soybeans, and wheat do not require bees for pollination, but most fruits and many vegetables do—apples, almonds, blueberries, pumpkins, melons, even onions and carrots. More than 130 crops in all, valued at about $15 billion annually, need to be pollinated by bees.

John Jacobson, owner of the Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake, says a collapse of the honeybee population tops the list of calamities—including drought and hailstorms—that apple growers worry about. He has 75 acres planted with apple trees, 24 acres with strawberries, and 10 acres with pumpkins. His operation hinges entirely on pollination by the honeybee colonies he rents and places in his fields every spring. “If you don’t get the pollination, it doesn’t matter if the hailstorm comes, because there’s nothing to wipe out.”

Beekeepers like to repeat an observation, attributed to Albert Einstein, to the effect that if honeybees disappeared, the human race would starve in four years. But Einstein said no such thing, according to University of Minnesota entomologist Marla Spivak, and if he had, he’d have been overstating the case. What would disappear, along with the commercial bee industry, Spivak says, would be much of the modern agricultural system—the “monoculture” practice of planting more than a few acres with the same crop. If farmers had to depend on wild pollinators such as bumblebees, says Spivak, bee-dependent crops could not be grown productively in single plots larger than about five acres. It is only the honeybee colonies trucked around the country and placed in fields by commercial beekeepers every spring that make possible a high yield from 100 acres of apples, not to mention a 1,000-acre almond orchard.

Minnesota has roughly 50 commercial beekeeping operators. Each winter, honey-bee colonies by the tens of thousands are loaded onto semi-trucks in Minnesota and the Dakotas and sent to California, where spring begins in February and almond growers alone need 1.3 million colonies—at about 40,000 or 50,000 bees per colony—for pollination. From coast to coast, truckloads of honeybees “follow the bloom” as spring moves from south to north, stopping to pollinate crops in different states: citrus in Florida, cranberries in New Jersey, blueberries in Maine. Then they return to their home bases for the summer to produce honey.

Mark Sundberg, of Sundberg Apiaries in Fergus Falls, is a third-generation beekeeper whose family has been in the business for almost 100 years. He began shipping bees to California about 15 years ago. Lately he has been sending five to seven semi-truckloads of honeybees to the West Coast each November—more than 2,000 colonies. They are kept in holding yards until February, then released into almond orchards near Fresno.

Last winter, Sundberg lost 40 percent of the bees he sent to California. Required inspections found them dead, diseased, mite-ridden, or otherwise unsuitable to be released into the orchards. “They got out there and the mites just chewed them up,” he says, adding that he may send fewer bees to California next year. Indeed, the heavy losses have left him wondering if it still makes sense to send any at all. 

THE EXACT REASON for the recent spike in bee mortality remains mysterious. Experts agree, however, that CCD represents not a new plague but a sort of tipping point that has been reached by a combination of forces, some of which have threatened honeybees for decades.

Darrel Rufer, president of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association, is a commercial beekeeper with about 3,500 colonies at an operation in Waverly.

He traces what he calls a “downhill slide” in the honeybee population to the 1984 appearance of a parasite called the tracheal mite, which was followed three years later by the arrival in the United States of a more deadly Asian cousin, the varroa mite. “Since then,” he says, “it’s just been one thing after another.”

Defending against varroa was so difficult and expensive that many beekeepers went out of business. The estimated number of U.S. hives dropped from 4.7 million in 1985 to 2.7 million in 1995. A pesticide called Apistan was effective against varroa for a few years, but it eventually became resistant. A second compound, developed by Jack Thomas in conjunction with a chemical company, was effective until 2005, when varroa again became resistant.

The varroa mite certainly contributes to CCD, Thomas says, but the pest is only one element in what he calls a “perfect storm” of deadly forces that lie behind the collapse. Honeybees are threatened by a pair of lethal viruses from Israel and Kashmir. Then there’s a native biological pathogen called Nosema and a newer cousin from Asia, Nosema ceranae. Diseases like foulbrood and chalkbrood play a role as well.

Also on the list of CCD suspects are the impact of chemical pesticides, a diminishing supply of natural vegetation, and the stress caused by trucking.

This May, as John Jacobson watched rented honeybees do their work in his White Bear apple orchard, he wondered how long he will be able to afford them—or to count on their availability at any price. “We growers are cheering for a solution to CCD,” he says. “We hope they’ll round the corner on it.”

“They” are researchers around the world who are working feverishly on solutions—and Minnesotans are in the thick of the fight. Michael Goblirsch, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota entomology department, was recently awarded $10,000 by the USDA to study the effects of Nosema ceranae. Vera Krischik, also at the U of M, has received a $175,000 grant to study the impact of insecticides.

Spivak, an internationally known authority on bees, is attacking CCD by breeding strains of disease-resistant honeybees. Her Minnesota Hygienic queens are in heavy demand, and she continues to experiment. But she points out that diseases are only one factor in the perfect storm that is CCD.

Thomas is attacking the problem from another angle, by developing feeds to strengthen bees, and new medications and chemical agents to fight viruses and mites. He is working with chemical companies on two new compounds to combat varroa mites. He hopes the first will be fully tested and approved sometime next year, with the second to follow in 2011.

Thomas also is working on a medication for Nosema ceranae, though he says progress is slow. Already on the market, however, are a variety of feeds, including a protein-rich mixture called Bee-Pro, that appear to strengthen colonies.
What is at stake in the fight against CCD? Thomas points to a demonstration in Arizona where a full acre of a cantaloupe field was tented off so that no flying insects could get in. “How many melons grew beneath that tent?” he demands. The answer is one. “That was on a vine that grew under the tent and got pollinated by a bee. Otherwise, zero.”

Jack Gordon is a Twin Cities writer. 

 

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MN Events Calendar

August 2015

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

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Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

The Meeting Waters Friday, August 28, 2015 – Sunday, August 30, 2015  Whittier Studios Reception: Friday, August 28, 6:00-9:00 p.m. Uniting artists from disparate...

Cost: Free

Where:
MCAD Whittier Gallery
2840 Grand Avenue, Minneapolis
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612-874-3793
Contact Name: Ann Benrud

More information

All poultry enthusiasts, 4-H supporters, and state fair goers, join Minnesota 4-H and Gold’n Plump on Sunday, August 30 from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the sixth annual Poultry Prince and Princess...

Cost: Free with admission to Minnesota State Fair

Where:
Minnesota State Fair Sheep & Poultry Barn
Judson Ave & Liggett St
St. Paul, MN  55108
View map »


Sponsor: Gold'n Plump
Telephone: 612-337-0087
Contact Name: Julia Irwin
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Join us as we gather with MCEA donors and friends at the Grand Ely Lodge on Sunday, August 30th from 4:00-6:00 PM! Enjoy refreshments and conversation as we learn from MCEA’s staff...

Cost: Free, reservations are required

Where:
Grand Ely Lodge
400 N. Pioneer Rd.
Sunrise Room
Ely, MN  55731
View map »


Website »

More information

Franklin Arts Center | Resident Artists Gallery will host a new body of work by Minneapolis artist Sara Suppan. Suppan’s paintings explore the relationship between the home and its...

Cost: Free

Where:
Franklin Art Center Resident Artists Gallery
1001 Kingwood St
Brainerd, MN  56401
View map »


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St Paul! Come see Alan Jackson perform all his hits live at the Minnesota State Fair on August 30th. Don't miss this unforgettable night of hits!

Cost: $40

Where:
Minnesota State Fair
St. Paul , MN


Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
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Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

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Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

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Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
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View map »


Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Join us as we gather with MCEA donors and friends at Tycoons in Downtown Duluth on Monday, August 31st from 4:00-6:00 PM! Enjoy refreshments and conversation with MCEA’s executive...

Cost: Free, reservations are required

Where:
Tycoons Alehouse
132 E. Superior St.
Duluth , MN
View map »


Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

This is a Minnesota Recovery Month event to express gratitude, convey hope and to celebrate all in recovery—family, friends, and everyone in our communities who help recovery happen. ...

Cost: $15.00

Where:
Target Field
822 S 3rd St, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN  55415
View map »


Sponsor: Minnesota Recovery Connection
Telephone: 612-584-4158
Contact Name: Julia Parnell
Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
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Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

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Show Less...

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Cost: Free

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Show More...
Show Less...

Thursday, September 3, 2015, 7:30 a.m. Hoversten Chapel, Foss Center, Augsburg College  625 22nd Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55454.  Keynote Speaker — Johnny Smith. ...

Cost: $15.00

Where:
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, MN


Sponsor: Minnesota Recovery Connection
Telephone: 612-584-4158
Contact Name: Julia Parnell
Website »

More information

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

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Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Join Ian Karl for an evening of carving canoe paddles, sharing stories of paddling adventures, and sampling some of the fine dark beer that the Midwest has to offer. Ian is an accomplished...

Cost: $20 per person

Where:
Northwest Passage's In A New Light Gallery
7417 North Bass Lake Rd
Webster, WI  54893
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Sponsor: Northwest Passage
Telephone: 715-309-4254
Contact Name: Brenda Martin
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In our latest best-of show, "Throwback BNW: Junk from our Trunk," the cast takes a look in the BNW archives for the best sketches from the last decade. The show will feature recent...

Cost: $25-$32

Where:
Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Brave New Workshop
Telephone: 612-332-6620
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If you're an animal-lover, and enjoy competition as well, the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association's 30th Annual Labor Day Trials are something you'll want to see. Witness some of...

Cost: $7 per person. (Kids under 10 are free)

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772 Kinney Road
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View map »


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Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Brave New Workshop
Telephone: 612-332-6620
Website »

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Crow with No Mouth Promotions presents German composer Gerhard Stäbler and Korean-born German composer Kunsu Shim in a collaborative electroacoustic performance. Crow with No Mouth...

Cost: $12

Where:
Studio Z
275 E. 4th Street, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN  55101
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Sponsor: Studio Z
Telephone: 651-755-1600
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July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
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Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
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If you're an animal-lover, and enjoy competition as well, the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association's 30th Annual Labor Day Trials are something you'll want to see. Witness some of...

Cost: $7 per person. (Kids under 10 are free)

Where:
Badlands Sno-Park
772 Kinney Road
Hudson, WI  54016
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Sponsor: Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association
Contact Name: Claudia Mahon
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#1 Good Dogs Coming Again to Hudson Badlands for 30th Annual Competition Have you ever tried to teach your dog to lie down on command? How about come when called while playing with his favorite...

Cost: $7

Where:
Badlands Sno-Park
772 Kinney Road
Hudson, WI
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Website »

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Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
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Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

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Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
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Website »

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Looking for something new to kick off Labor Day Weekend?... Try this...No Dog Left Behind's inaugural 5k for both humans & their dogs. Run, Walk, Bark along the Shores of Beautiful...

Cost: $20 in advance, $30 Race day

Where:
Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach Road
Duluth, MN  55804
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Sponsor: No Dog Left Beind
Contact Name: Susan
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The public is invited to attend the ninth annual Blue Moon Art Tour on Saturday, September 5 and Sunday, September 6 of Labor Day weekend, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Visit artists at their studios...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Studios
Blue Moon Road
Drummond, WI  54832
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Telephone: 800-533-7454
Contact Name: Cable Area Chamber of Commerce
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Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
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Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

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Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
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Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
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In our latest best-of show, "Throwback BNW: Junk from our Trunk," the cast takes a look in the BNW archives for the best sketches from the last decade. The show will feature recent...

Cost: $25-$32

Where:
Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN  55403
View map »


Sponsor: Brave New Workshop
Telephone: 612-332-6620
Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

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