Why the Art Shanty Projects Lure Locals Outdoors

Art Shanty Projects, White Bear Lake
Photos courtesy of the Art Shanty Projects

The annual Art Shanty Projects continue to prove that art can thrive in any setting—even on a frozen lake in below-freezing temperatures. In a nod to the ever-present winter pastime of ice fishing, artist-made shanties sitting atop White Bear Lake serve as vessels for artistic innovation throughout the month of February. A jury-selected group of visual and performing artists will brave the cold each weekend to provide a variety of programming from educational, to musical, to absurdist, in a setting not normally devoted to art-making.

Since its inception in 2004, the event has expanded from a small pet project of founders (David Pitman and Peter Haakon Thompson) to a staple of the local arts community. Annually drawing upwards of 10,000 visitors from across the state, the move this year to White Bear Lake is a culmination of the event’s transformation from a volunteer-run artist collective into a grant-funded non-profit with local and national clout. ArtPlace America and Springboard for the Arts are among the non-profits whose grant money goes toward funding the event. Part of this money also goes toward supporting the artists’ work—this year, each participating artist received a stipend of $1,500.

Executive director Dawn Bentley says that White Bear Lake is the perfect setting for the event due to the charming town’s “focus on making the arts a part of the community.” Their greater community focus parallels a major drive behind the event to blur the line between artist and observer through audience participation. Bentley calls this is an intentional way to bring the “rich” local arts community together.

“The event was born out of an interest in celebrating winter in Minnesota in a unique way, and bringing people outside during a time of year when people tend to be isolated,” says Bentley. “Visitors should expect the unexpected, and be willing to participate at whatever level they’re comfortable with.” This spirit of inclusivity permeates all aspects of the event, which is consciously disability-friendly in both its programming and its logistics.

Art Shanty Projects, White Bear Lake

The 19 shanties are designed and constructed by artist teams and will be present on the lake throughout the month. In addition to their unique looks, including a giant train as well as an accurate fish house replica, the shanties’ environmental impact is always taken into account during the selection process. The artists are encouraged to power their shanties through solar panels or portable batteries.

“The only impact left should be from people’s footprints,” says Bentley.

The programs take place both inside and out, and around the shanties. Highlights from this year’s event includes an organized scavenger hunt, flamenco dancing, interactive music, art, poetry, and a Sparkle Parade that travels around the village in celebration of the arts. Spectators are free to participate actively or passively, but the event truly has something for everyone.

“Not many states can boast that their citizens would come out into the cold for this kind of event,” says Bentley. “The Art Shanty Projects really celebrate Minnesota’s rich artistic and cultural heritage.”

For more information about the Art Shanty Projects, running Feb. 6-28 on White Bear Lake, visit the event’s website.