Just ahead of the 20th annual Art-A-Whirl, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District gets to pat itself on the back for winning the Best Arts District readers' poll from USA Today. The community is celebrating the award with a party tonight at the Solar Arts Building in the Chowgirls' third floor event space.
Artist Dougie Padilla moved to northeast Minneapolis 27 years ago at a time when other artists also were migrating to the area.
"When I first moved up here, I heard Polish and Ukrainian spoken on the street," Padilla says.
At the time, there was an imaginary line between Nye's Polonaise Room and Kramarczuk's Sausage Company, marking a border of where people thought it was safe to visit.
"People were afraid to come to Northeast, because it was so dangerous," he says.
Ironically, nowadays you see people driving Mercedes in the area, and people will spend $35 on an entree.
Sculptor Aldo Moroni went to the first Art-A-Whirl meeting over 20 years ago. He had been a downtown artist for a long time before that, and had moved to Northeast for financial reasons. Before that, many artists were based in the Warehouse District in Minneapolis, and the community centered on the Wyman Building and the New French Cafe.
"We had a downtown gallery scene," Moroni says. All the openings would happen at the same time, and people would parade around to different art shows.
As artists migrated to northeast Minneapolis, they came up with the idea to open up all the art studios at once, and Art-A-Whirl was born. The event is run by the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA). Of course, Art-A-Whirl itself has changed over the years.
"It wasn't a big music beer festival," Moroni says. "It was an art scene."
Caitlin Karolczak, another artist based in the Solar Arts Building in Northeast, says she loves her space and the community, but has found in recent years that the amount of sales she gets each year has gone down during Art-A-Whirl. Her regular customers have a hard time getting to her space with all the extra people coming to see the music, who haven't been spending money on art.
This year, she plans on not focusing so much on selling work. Instead, she's creating a performance piece as she has in the past with her collaborator Jaime Carrera.
The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District has changed, too. One concern for the arts community is how the area's popularity is attracting development.
"Our big fear is gentrification, that it will eventually become an Uptown," Moroni says.
Sarah Whiting, who recently came out with a book about artists in northeast Minneapolis that includes photography, says she was first introduced to the area when she showed her work at a place called the Art Collective about 13 years ago. She eventually was brought in as a partner. She became involved with NEMAA, and was impressed with how vibrant the community was. Now she's worried about prices going up, as she's seen the cost for her studio skyrocket.
Padilla, who is on the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District Board of Directors, says gentrification is a topic ofconcern. At the same time, the rising development can also mean opportunities for the artists. "With money comes people that actually buy art," Padilla says.
Destinations like restaurants and performance venues can also mean more people coming to see the art. "The board is trying to explore what people have done in other parts of the United States," Padilla says. "This isn't inventing the wheel. Change happens, we just have to figure out how to navigate it."
Tricia Khutoretsky, co-director of Public Functionary Gallery, which opened in Northeast in 2012, says that a lot has changed even since she moved to the area as a resident about eight years ago, especially with all the breweries and companies moving into the buildings.
"It's going to be about what synergy can exist between all the different types of industries that are popping up here," she says. "If everyone can be a little bit flexible in terms of the way they see this neighborhood, and work together to maintain what it is, it could be amazing."
Khutoretsky says there's room in the area for more alternative art spaces like Public Functionary to exist. "There's a lot of space, it's more sprawling than a lot of the other areas," she says.
IF YOU GO:
7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 1
Solar Arts Building, 711 15th Ave. NE, Minneapolis.