Art-A-Whirl, the northeast Minneapolis arts festival that typically draws thousands to the district, is not ready to return to its pre-pandemic glory just quite yet. But pandemic aside, the event will be held virtually and in-person—with individual studios, galleries, and businesses hosting their own in-person open hours during the weekend.
From May 14 to 16, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association’s website will be the main resource for all visitors to find out which studios and food vendors are open, plus ways to shop partnering artists’ work online.
Some artists, like Michelle Brusegaard of MBMB, feel ready to welcome visitors back into their studios. Brusegaard is one of nearly 100 other artists in the Northrup King Building, a popular artist studio destination, who will be open during Art-A-Whirl weekend. The building is home to more than 350 artists, over two thirds of which are opting out of participating in the festival.
But for Brusegaard, Art-A-Whirl is an important yearly tradition that she holds dear. Her business, MBMB, sells everything from screen printed apparel and home décor to paintings and greeting cards.
“I just really love getting my space all zhuzhed up and inviting people in,” says Brusegaard, who has participated in Art-A-Whirl every year since moving her studio to the Northrup King Building five years ago. During a non-pandemic year, the event is typically the biggest weekend in sales for her business, with people swarming her studio like bees, which is “really hard to imagine now,” she says.
Brusegaard feels safe with the precautions Northrup King is taking during Art-A-Whirl weekend. “I’m glad I get to experience the energy of the weekend,” she says. “It’s a tiny sigh of relief after this period of time of not being able to interact with anybody.”
To visit studios in the Northrup King Building in person during the festival, visitors must make reservations online via Eventbrite in advance and comply with the building’s face mask requirement. In adherence to Minnesota’s Stay Safe Plan, individual studios will be limited to 50% capacity. Patrons visiting Art-A-Whirl’s other partnering studio buildings, Flux Arts Building, Q.arma Building, Solar Arts Building, Thorp Building, and Waterbury Building, do not have to make a reservation.
Brusegaard’s Northrup King neighbor Louisa Podlich has participated in Art-A-Whirl during her handful of years in the building, but chose to opt out in 2021 (as she also did in 2020). Though Art-A-Whirl is one of Podlich’s favorite events, she says her safety concerns outweighed the benefits of partaking.
“The ventilation in my studio is not great, and I don’t want to be responsible for enforcing a mask mandate,” says Podlich, who also chose not to participate in Northrup King Building’s regular open studio events Open Saturdays and First Thursdays during the pandemic for the same reasons. In 2021, she saw online sales for her business, A MANO, grow as people were forced at home and indoors.
Podlich says, “People really rallied around artists—at least that was my experience.”
A MANO sells handmade ceramic housewares—top sellers while cooking at home reached an all time high. Podlich also creates earrings and collaborates with the national home brand West Elm.
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Online sales were also up for Brusegaard during the pandemic—in what she says is a testament to the people at home who took up online shopping. “I’ve talked to other people in the building who share the same experience,” she says. “Everyone was trying to be like, ‘let’s not let these people go out of business’… I think it’s a combination of people wanting to shop local, and looking to get something unique, handmade, or personal.”
There are plenty of Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) artists to support from afar. The arts association has put together an online shop with thousands of artworks to browse. There will also be many virtual events taking place—including studio tours, interviews, art demos, and performances—available to watch via NEMAA’s website.
And Art-A-Whirl would simply not be the same without beer flowing and hot food at the ready, though this year will be a far cry from years past. Twelve partnering restaurants, most with eats available for pickup, include Centro, Minnesota Nice Cream, Element Pizza, and Northeast Social.
The beverage lineup of six—612 Brew, Central Ave Liquor Stores, Grumpy’s Bar, Indeed Brewing Company, Sociable Cider Werks, and Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop—have varying options for delivery and pick-up. As much as it stings, don’t expect the full-fledged dance party that often emerges in the evening hours at Indeed you may have experienced at previous Art-A-Whirls.
Art-A-Whirl 2021 will take place at various studio locations and online. For individual artist studio and building hours, visit nemaa.org/art-a-whirl.