Art-A-Whirl 2010: NEMAA's Jeff Lohaus has the lowdown

Put on your arty-pants (no, not the Zubaz) and make your way to the Northeast Arts District this weekend for a flurry of creative activity! Unless you've been living under a rock for the past


15 years, odds are you have been to or at least heard of Art-A-Whirl. The annual Northeast-based art crawl spans an entire district, with thousands upon thousands of artistic treasures just waiting to be discovered. From big warehouse buildings packed with artists' studios to off-the-beaten-path home studio gems, this epic event just keeps getting bigger and better with each passing year. Started by a handful of marketing-savvy artists 15 years ago, the annual fest has gone from a party at the Thorp Building to the top art buying destination for collectors state-wide. Behind this behemoth is an army of hundreds of artists led by The Northeast Minneapolis Art Association (NEMAA), the non-profit neighborhood organization that publicizes Art-A-Whirl as a whole, produces the handy-dandy artist directory, and sets up info booths and trolleys -- all the while acting as an indispensable hub for said army of artists to connect, promote and get involved. This week, the Dressing Room chats with NEMAA board president and Northeast artist, Jeff Lohaus, about the origins of Art-A-Whirl and more...

The Dressing Room: Art-A-Whirl is now in its 15th year! How did Art-A-Whirl begin and how has the neighborhood evolved over that time span? How much of that evolution do you think is directly due to the arts community?

Jeff Lohaus: I was not around at the time but I understand that Art-A-Whirl started in a very casual manner when some folks said "hey why don't we try this?" They did and it actually worked much to the surprise of the naysayers in the original group. I have been in Minneapolis nearly 12 years now and have been going to AAW's for the last 10. Initially it was hard to find the venues except for NKB, but over the years it has become increasingly well publicized in the local media, and with the improvements and availability of the directory. I moved to NE 6 years ago and have witnessed the boom on 13th Avenue and the inauguration of the Art District, two things that have come about, I believe, because of the notoriety that AAW has brought to NE.  The number of people that are out on the streets and in the neighborhoods of NE during AAW weekend is just amazing.

How does NEMAA as an organization support the arts community? What do members get out of it?

NEMAA provides two majors services for our members. First of all, we present and support Art-A-Whirl and the other open studio events during the year including First Thursdays, First Fridays, Second Saturdays, Art Attack, Cache, and the Fall Fine Arts Show. Thanks to the advertising revenue from our directory and the generous support from our sponsors we have been able to do all of this while keeping our membership at a very low and affordable rate. We also have a very first class web presence where we showcase our members work and provide information for our members and about our members to the general public.

You have your own studio at the Northrup King Building, and number of the NEMAA board members are also working artists. You could say the organization is run for artists by artists; how important is that perspective?

Actually less than half of our board members are artists today. But that has not always been the case. In the last year we have recruited members from across the community in an effort to stay on top of our growing responsibilities and our responsibility to grow.  After 15 years AAW has become a brand of its own and we hope to grow the event in the future.  But, we want to do that in a manner that will not turn it into a circus.  Our objective with AAW is to get people to come to NE and visit studios and enjoy that experience in a leisurely manner.

How has Art-A-Whirl managed to keep its artsy "street cred" for so long?

We stick to our business which is making art and opening our studios to the public without surrounding it with a state fair like atmosphere.  We want to grow AAW in the future, but don't look for cheese curds, mini-donuts, or beer tents anytime soon.  There are a lot of places to eat and drink in NE after a leisurely day of touring studios and talking with artists - and buying art!

Tell us a bit about your own art...are you able to make your living with it? What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

I do make a living with it but it rarely pays the bills. I have a metal shop that is set up to do lots of small custom jobs that I use to pay those bills; the rest my the time I use make sculpture and do some painting as well. As far as advice, I would tell an aspiring artist to stick to what you love and believe in it. There are a lot of people out there looking for formulas, but the best ones come from what you are really passionate about - that is going to reflect in whatever you make. And my favorite inspirational quote comes from Winston Churchill: NEVER give up!

If you are able to escape from your studio this coming weekend, what will you check out?

I will definitely check out the NEMAA Silent Auction in the NKB where you can see a broad range of members' work in one place.  After that you can go and hunt down the studios of your favorites.  Also, I spend a lot of time in the large buildings and never get to discover the smaller venues that are spread throughout NE (all listed on the map in the directory) so I would like to get out and see some of them, like Foster Wiley's studio on 22nd Ave. and  Rosie Kittsteiner's gallery on University, and 2001 A Space (best gallery name ever). And there are dozens more.

Art-A-Whirl runs Friday, May 14th from 5-10pm, Saturday, May 15th from Noon-8pm, and Sunday, May 16th from Noon-5pm. For more information on Art-A-Whirl, including a comprehensive listing of member artists and special events, visit

For more information on Jeff Lohaus, visit

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