If you’re jonesing for the return of the Art Shanty Projects, which takes to White Bear Lake this February, you can get an early fix at Soo Visual Art Center this Saturday, where the organization will be celebrating 10 years with photography and other ephemera of shanties past.
Last summer Bella De La Cruz, an intern working for the organization, sorted through thousands of photographs. Fifty of them have been blown up and printed for the exhibition, which will also feature a few art bikes as well.
For most of its existence, the Art Shanty Projects has been completely volunteer run. That’s all changed in the last 18 months, as the organization became its own 501(c)3 and hired an executive director, Dawn Bentley. So far, much of her job has entailed collecting various items from computers and organizing the Art Shanty history in order to be “thoughtful about our future,” she says.
The Art Shanty Projects were originally hosted by artists Peter Haakon Thompson and David Pitman. At first, it was just a gathering of friends, but it developed a momentum all its own. The founders reached out to the Soap Factory for build space and eventually to be the group’s fiscal sponsor.
In 2012, the last year the shanties were on Medicine Lake, they drew 20,000 people. “At that point a group of organizers made the reflection that this had become something of its own entity,” Bentley says. They took steps toward becoming a nonprofit, taking a year off the ice and moving locations.
In 2014, the group was invited to host the event at White Bear Lake. "[The city] is intentionally trying to make White Bear Lake a hub for the arts,” Bentley says. The lake had seen some decline due to lowered water levels, and the (mostly) sole-proprietor businesses around the area were suffering. The Art Shanties were an opportunity to bring people to the area in the winter. It looks like it will be cold enough this year for the shanties to be on the ice, but there is a contingency plan where the event would take place on shore. In total, there are 18 shanties and 18 performances happening on about one acre of the lake. All of the projects were chosen through a jury selection process.
While the Art Shanty Projects have occurred every other year since 2012, Bentley says that the organization is on track to not only hit the ice this winter but also next winter as well, thanks to an Art Place America Grant. The shanties are also going to be working toward making the event accessible, such as having an access weekend, with ASA interpreters, visual descriptors, and artist-designed kick sleds for people with mobility issues.
The reception at SooVAC will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 9.
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