No Art Shanty Projects this January: Covid cancellations are dipping into 2021, y’all

The Welcome Shanty

The Welcome Shanty Jill Emmer

The Art Shanty Projects bring people together in the dead of winter, inviting them into tiny spaces for a variety of hands-on projects and experiences. While that used to be charming, these days it sounds terrifying.

And with that in mind, the Art Shanty Projects have announced that they won’t be hosting their festival in 2021.

“Frankly, we think it would be irresponsible to plan a public gathering for thousands of people per day,” says operations director Arlo Sombor. “Our festival relies on the interaction between people in small, enclosed structures that are not conducive to social distancing.”

While we don’t know how bad the pandemic is going to be by January, Art Shanty organizers would rather not waste anyone’s time, and have chosen to make a proactive plan.

“We would not ask [the artists] to invest energy, materials, and their stipends toward a program that has a real probability of getting canceled -- nor would we ask them to risk their own health during the months-long building process that leads up to the event,” says artistic director Erin Lavelle.

Unlike many other programs, the Art Shanty Projects does not plan to go virtual, either.

“We have determined it would not align with our mission to produce a virtual event,” says Lavelle, “and at this time we do not wish to alter the format on the ice.”

Since 2004, artists, activists, scientists, and community members have come together in January to create an ice shanty village on a lake. Inside each space, guests find a variety of fun presentations, games, dance parties, science lessons, and more. Outside, there’s often parades, art bikes, sports, and other fun.

This isn’t the first time the shanties have taken a year off, with funding, warmer temps, and other factors triggering the occasional cancellation. In 2019, the fest was called off after a grant fell through, only to be saved by last-minute funding.

For the project, 2020 and 2021 will be a year of preparing, from an appropriate social distance.

“This year we will shift focus from external to internal programming,” says board co-chair Cali Mastny, “with board and staff working on equity, accessibility, and financial sustainability.”