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The future is precarious for the Art Shanty Projects

Art Shanties

Art Shanties Jill Emmer

Since 2005, the Art Shanty Projects has turned frozen lakes into spaces for creativity and community, as artists and local groups build shanties with distinct themes. The monthlong festival typically takes place in January.

In September, however, the Shanty organizers announced that they were unable to secure a major grant, leading to a shortfall of about $85,000. Because of this, there will be no on-ice program at all this year.

Considering the event’s success at Bde Unma/Lake Harriet last year, the news is especially discouraging. The fest’s first year in Minneapolis (it had previously camped out on White Bear Lake and Medicine Lake in Plymouth) had over 40,000 visitors.

Event coordinators have decided to use their time off to step back and take stock. “We’re committed to being here in the future,” says board co-chair Saulaman Schlegel.

What that future looks like is currently unclear. Since the announcement, the project has been the focus of two community meetings. Attendees discussed a variety of possibilities, including finding corporate sponsorship, diversifying funding sources, charging admission, and partnering with another organization.

In the past, participating artists have received a $1,500 stipend. “That amount was never going to compensate me for anything but the building materials for my shanty,” says artist Alyssa Baguss. While she loves the Art Shanty experience, “this is not a sustainable way to live unless you are privileged. Higher artist compensation is absolutely necessary.”

Many attendees spoke directly to the costs and labor involved in building a shanty and exhibiting it for a month. An artist from the Chef Shanty estimated that it took 132 hours to build the structure.

Artist Giuliana Pinto says that the Art Shanties were part of the reason she moved from California to Minneapolis. “Relying on grants for an ongoing project is risky because it is never a sure thing for any number of reasons,” she says. “But I believe in [the event]. I want it to keep happening.”

This isn’t the first time the Art Shanty Projects has taken some time off. No events happened in 2013 or 2016, but this juncture could be critical. “Large events are taxing on everyone, and wrangling artists in the dead of winter is not for the faint of heart,” says Baguss. “I think it’s wise they’re taking a break to look at what it really takes to present this sort of event. This will define how and when they can move forward in a sustainable manner.”