Art in Unusual Places

By Tim Hoheisel, HMA Cultural

Art is all around us, all day every day.  Our worlds are saturated with art and that is a pretty great thing.  Some examples: the bed you sleep on was created by a designer, the sheets are textile art.  The appliances in your home, and your house itself, were designed to be aesthetically pleasing not just utilitarian.  If you drive to work in a car, it, too, was created with the help of artists.  You probably drive by sculptures on the street going to your job.  You probably have photos and art in your office. Do you listen to the radio on your way to work?  Music is one of the arts.  If you work on a computer, many artists were involved in its creation.  You get the point.  Interacting with art in our daily lives is as common to us as breathing.  I don’t think we comprehend that often enough but we should start to.

Here in the upper Midwest we have four distinct seasons.  In the middle of winter, the landscape is covered in a blanket of snow and the lakes are frozen over.  I grew up near Mille Lacs Lake.  In the winter there are probably more fish houses on the ice than there are regular houses in the town in which we lived.  Shanties, another term for them, are made to be used for fishing on the ice and allow people to stay warm and out of the elements.  They are utilitarian, built for function, not necessarily to be comfortable.  Some people do make the interiors of their fish houses pretty extravagant, though. I've been in shanties with stoves, beds, kitchenettes, and even one with a wine bar.  Ice fishing is big business in Minnesota.  When we have a warm winter, it negatively affects the local economy. 

Fish houses on Mille Lacs Lake.  Must be early in the season because there aren't very many on the ice yet. 

Fish houses on Mille Lacs Lake.  Must be early in the season because there aren't very many on the ice yet. 

Those of you who are from the upper Midwest don’t need an introduction to what ice shanties are.  To people in other places in the country, they are as out of place as a surf board would be on a lake in Minnesota in summer.  Fishing on the ice in winter is a long Minnesota tradition.  An ongoing project on the ice on White Bear Lake has turned that sporting tradition into an annual art exhibition.

The Art Shanties Project

What may seem like an unusual place for art for most of the rest of the country, the surface of a frozen lake, becomes a winter art show every February in a Twin Cities suburb. The non-profit group Art Shanty Projects based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, takes ordinary ice fish houses and makes art installations out of them.  This year there are nineteen artists who have been juried into the show.  The point of these structures has little to do with fishing.

A sampling of some of the art shanties. The interiors are where a lot of the art is located, because winter. 

A sampling of some of the art shanties. The interiors are where a lot of the art is located, because winter. 

From the project's website, “For 10 years, Art Shanty Projects has organized a month-long festival on a frozen lake surface into an interactive, artist-driven temporary community that expands notions of art and artist. The 2016 On-Ice Program will take place on White Bear Lake every weekend during February 2016. Exploration of artist designed and built shanties and performance events are free and open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 10am-4pm.”

I haven’t yet been to the 2016 exhibition but I took in the art on ice in 2014.  It was a spectacular arrangement of unique art inside the shanties and outside on the ice.  There was music, dancing, and several large bears constructed from chicken wire and tissue paper and plastic covering bicycles and wagons.  The first thing that came to mind when I saw those for the first time were Theo Jensen’s Strandbeests, though these were people-propelled. 


I don’t know what the creators had in mind when creating this project.  I can surmise that it was to bring art to an otherwise commonplace location and with ordinary objects, at least for Minnesota.  The vision that I have in my head of this project is that it will continue to grow and get more popular.  It is clearly nowhere near the size of Burning Man, but that is what I pictured when I visited.  A giant Ice Man made from blocks of ice from the lake.  People celebrating art and winter, reveling on the ice as people do in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for Burning Man.  The Art Shanties Project would conclude with the melting of the Ice Man, or something.  Maybe that is just my imagination, but Burning Man started small too!

Whatever the future holds for the Art Shanty Project, it has my attention and it should have yours, too.  If you haven’t yet been there, you have two more weekends to go and check it out for yourself.  The Art Shanty Project is the only one of its kind that I am aware of.  It only comes around once a year and I highly recommend making the journey to White Bear Lake to check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.


AstroLounge (Artists:: Patrick Erbe, Shannon Fletcher, Hanna Kjeldbjerg, Grace Lansing, Rachel Mogck, Rebecca Mogck, Airin Murphy, V.S. Ramstack, Kellie Reichert, Tim Schumacher, Ramy Selim, Trevor Simmons, and Ben Pecholt) Local artist collective Err and Sunny Day Earth Solutions present the AstroLounge. Terrestrial sky-gazers and cosmic trailblazers are welcomed into the cozy comfort of this shanty's lounge-inspired interior. Visitors can deepen their knowledge and indulge their curiosity relating to outer space and its many complexities through an array of perspectives ranging from the astrological to the astronautic.

Aurora Shanty (Artists :: Alan Palazzolo, Leah Puffer, Kristen Murray and Rox Johnson) Bringing the magic of the night scky and wonder of the aurora borealis to what is mostly a daytime event, this solar-powered shanty will delight all with a data-driven, interactive light show.

Botanical ShanTea (Artists:: Libby London, Emma Schroeder, Aaron Fitch, Lars Hansen, and Brian Hedburg) A permaculture-inspired tea garden and site for learning about, viewing, and tasting the abundance of Minnesota plants here in our cold climate. This shanty invites guests to walk through a frozen garden of native plants before joining the group inside to taste the abundance of the season.

Boiler Room Shanty (Artist:: Clara Schiller and Amelia Foster) This shanty is designed to give visitors an external and internal peek at the rarely accessible space of a municipal boiler room. A custodian in uniform presents each guest with an official “Authorized Visitor” sticker inviting entrance to a room full of enigmatic boiler features: concrete floor, painted yellow lines, industrial signs, chain link fence, hanging light bulbs, dials, switches, breaker boxes, and pipes made of steel, copper and PVC.

The “Box” Studio (Artist:: Adam Jarvi) This shanty is a roving retreat for professional and aspiring artists to consider and contemplate the wintry milieu. People inspired by the lake and landscape—color, light, moods, and sights—of a Minnesota winter are invited to practice their craft while visitors mingle with artists-in-residence at work and in the field.

Catch Your Limit (Artists:: Rose Shetka, Martha Megarry, Peter Quinlan, Lori Quinlan, and David Megarry) This shanty takes inspiration from a 1960’s family ice fishing trip to Lake Mille Lacs. The shanty memoir includes a 2D comic strip inside a 3D re-creation of the original mid-century fish house in a comic book style. Visitors are invited to play along and participate with interactive activities and displays that include a set of bunk beds and cartoonish, child-safe, angling paraphernalia.

Chef Shanty (Artist:: Jeremy Bue) This shanty, inspired by cooking and craft, brings the love of art and food together in one inspired space. Visitors will engage with various fun and educational food connected projects and presentations by a wide group of culinary artists, visual artists, and food inspired folks.

Dance Shanty (Artists:: John Pederson, John Each, Brady Clark, Bethany Hall, Jake Ryan, and Mike Rassmusen) This shanty invites visitors to shed woolen layers and generate heat by scratching their dancing itch. This year's focus on a “forever young” mentality will feature music from all eras and times to connect the generations through dance and movement from a crew that encourages and embraces all forms of dance expression.

Data Lab Shanty (Artists:: Marieka Heinlen, Angela Maki North, Sarah Honeywell, Aaron Prust, Jason Burnanen, Laura Breshears, and Pader Fang) Using visual communication as a medium, this shanty seeks to build content from crowd-sourcing on-ice visitors. An on-ice exploration of quantitative and qualitative information gathering through surveys questionnaires and focus groups. Info-exhibits created by the artists enhance the visitor’s ability to visually absorb patterns in data.

Matoska Tonka Pedal Bears (Artists:: Allen Christian, Janet Groenert, Maryanna Harstad, Morgan L’Argent, Mary Jane LaVigne, Mina Leierwood, Jim Muellner, Richard Parnell, and Peter Schulze) The 20 foot long, 12 foot high, pedal-driven puppet and its 8 foot long, 5 foot tall bear cub will highlight language and legends. Participants will be challenged with a Dakota language word hunt, and visitors to the warming house can hear stories of Matoska Tonka (big white bear) and learn more about myths of the White Bear Lake moniker.

My Home is Minnesota (Artists:: Julie Strand and Britt Udesen) This shanty is a collaborative effort between a poet and printmaker focusing on an exploration of voices that occupy the internal environment and exist within a given community. Visitors will encounter and create definitions of home and Minnesota that respond to the natural elements of places as well as human interruptions in romantic landscapes.

Ouijatotter Shanty (Artists:: Paul Owen, Jeff Berg, and Derek Ahlberg) This shanty encourages lighthearted fun and interaction with other spectators. As visitors approach, they will be visually attracted to the fun-house circus exterior, and drawn in by the barking Ringleader spinning his enticing solicitation of the spectacle to be ridden and mystery inside. Willing participants ask a question they are yearning to know the answer to, and then jump on the Ouijatotter to solicit the answer. It teeter- totters when several pairs of participants work together to answer questions posed.

Peace Train Shanty (Artists:: Dave Greenlund, Pam Schweitzer, Dan Mackerman, and Peg Cavanaugh) This shanty is a place of printmaking where people of every age and physical or artistic ability can express their thoughts on creating peace. When visitors enter, an artist will assist them in crafting a roll of tickets to travel on a personal journey towards peace. 

Performance HexaYurt (Artists:: Ephraim Eusebio and Rachel Schwartz) A traditional yurt provides a home for untraditional presentations. Check out the newsletter insert for a schedule of this year's rotating cast of performers each weekend.  

Shanti Shanty (Artists:: Yadin Dickstein and Sophie Vranian) From afar, this yurt on wheels is a dot of color in the white of snow and ice; from up close an icon of spiritual technology, ancient symbolism, and our place in the changing environment. Visitors outside can spin the shanty like a Tibetan prayer wheel, taking time to reflect on the symbolism of circum-ambulation: compassion, prayer, dharma, or perhaps just the winter sun. Decorate your own prayer flag to add to the Prayer Flag Fence and partake with various scheduled rituals such as smudging, kirtan, meditation, sound bathing, and a Jewish Tent Blessing.

Slumber Party Shanty (Artists:: Anthony Chapin, Erin Lavelle, Tami Traeger, Phillip O'Toole, Tim Harlan-Marks, Sarah Chapman, Alex Eninsche, Allison Osberg, Ryan Weber, and Thomas Menke) A giant enclosed bed on ice where guests of all ages attend slumber party up top after a visit with the monster underneath. Visitors enter the shanty through a secret passage and make their way through the dark corners under the bed. An opportunity to don costumes of choice is presented before guest’s head up to the slumber party to meet the host and play games with other attendees.

Sound + Vision (XXX) (Artists:: Julie Benda, Kelsey Bosch, Kathryn Miller) A collaborative project that endeavors to negotiate the mystery, femininity and physicality of frozen lakes. From a point near the geographical center of the water, this shanty invites visitors to explore how our senses of sound and vision inform our feeling of place.

Under the Lake / Sonic Shanty (Artists:: Rebecca and Jonathan Loyche) An interactive installation that allows visitors to hear what is going on under the ice and how their presence effects the lake on a sonic level. Audience members are also invited to subtly play the frozen lake as an instrument inside this sound chamber shanty.

The Shanty of Joy & Necessity (Artist:: David Pitman, 2014) In the center of the artist-driven temporary community is the gathering point for artists, performers, and audiences to warm their hands and hearts as they learn more about Art Shanty Projects from the more than 60 volunteers and contracted staff who give life to this uniquely Minnesotan festival each year. 


ArtCar / ArtBike Parade on Ice (Artists:: ArtCars / ArtBikes of Minnesota) Driving across the ice is a challenging idea to many but each year the world’s only ArtCar / ArtBike Parade on Ice happens right here in Minnesota. ArtCars will also be available for anyone wanting transport back to shore. 

Closer Body Cartography (Artists:: Olive Bieringa, Otto Ramstad, Anna Marie Shogren, Justin Jones, Dolo McComb,and Kimberly Lesik) Bare the power of physicality and presence through a series of dance performances. One dancer and one audience member work together on the ice to play with how the meeting between performer and participant generates possibility.

Cold War/m Up (Artists:: Anna Abhau Elliott and  Desiree Moore) A scavenger hunt involving codes, clues, and Ovaltine decoder rings will pepper the landscape with surprises while performers attempt to knit an infinite scarf. Artists fascinated by found environments look for ways to interact with outdoor spaces and pay homage to the landscape.

Downrange Telemetrics (Artists:: Becca Barniskis and Nick Jaffe) A Twin Cities-based poet/performer/singer and veteran Chicago soul, hip-hop, post-rock, experimental guitarist collaborate to launch a mobile unit on White Bear Lake with a series of outdoor, interactive musical performances.

The Energetic Flower Stand (Artist:: Jess Hirsch) Take a walk with a flower bouquet to treat emotional states.

Fire and Ice: A Winter Flamenco Odyssey (Artists :: Deborah Elias, Danza Española with the Coro Flamenco Street Choir) In a juxtaposition of Southern Spain and Minnesota, this combination flamenco procession, performance, and sing along will heat up the ice with energy and festivity. The Coro Flamenco Street Choir will process around the shanties and ultimately gather around the bonfire to sing and dance to traditional flamenco songs. Visitors are invited to join the procession and/or meet up at the bonfire to join in the fun by doing palmas (rhythmic hand clapping), playing rhythm instruments, and singing along.

Inward Music on Ice (Artist:: Sarah Stengle) Inward Music on Ice is a sculptural tableaux of ordinary chairs mounted on vintage wooden skis. Participants can play small sculptural harps based on the Finnish kantele using the warm mitten/picks provided.

Lady Bear the Polar Bear Puppet (Artist:: Kimberly Ford) Originally crafted to promote the arts in White Bear Lake, the full scale White Bear will charm children and delight audiences with her roaring, dancing, posing and walking as performance art for engaging audiences of all ages and abilities.

Lady in Red (Vixen) (Artist:: Erin Drummond) A game for the young and young at heart and a mystery for the wise, this performance invites playfulness while embodying the flame of wildness that lives on the edges—and through the fibers—of society.

Poems (Artist:: Theo Langason) The best poems are more than just words on a page; they live and breathe. Join this performer to create original poetry on the spot.

Prairie Fire Lady Choir (Artists:: Prairie Fire Lady Choir) This rockin' group of more than 60 singers brings a  "Fire on Ice" concert providing beautiful harmonies and raucous joy to draw in visitors from across the frozen lake.

Quick Paint from Outdoor Painters of Minnesota (Artists:: Allison Eklund, Alice Cho, Barb Casey, Bruce Young, Cheryl LeClare, Greg Lecker,  Kathy Liuri, Melissa Moe, Michelle Wagner, Patty Schwartz, Rich Myers, Sallie Malmstrom and Tom Dimock) Landscape "plein air" painters populate festivities to paint the scene, people, and activities during the event. Visitors will enjoy watching artists create while interacting to learn about old methods of portraying new and contemporary themes, outdoor painter inspiration, and challenges both logistic and artistic.

Shanty Bike (Artist:: Ben Weaver) An ongoing fat bike/winter bike ride offering musical performance and poetry reading around the lake and within the shanty community where audiences will learn about winter, weather, water, local history,  and ecology. 

Shanty Show Booth (Artists:: Riley Kane, Mike Haeg, and Tammy Dahlke) Similar to a Fortune Teller Booth, this simulated pay-per-performance entertainment spectacle invites visitors to 'pay' with a free token to observe one of a variety of acts, including: Riley n' Salty 'reverse ventriloquism', Mediocre Celebrity Impressions, The Great Tamerelda Taro Readings, or Pay-Per-Mime.

Snow Car Parking Lot (Artist:: Michael Gaughan) Join artist Michael Gaughan in his original blend of visual art, performance art, absurdity, and mystery as he creates a sculptural reproduction of a car out of snow.

Sparkle Parade (Artists :: Danielle Cezanne, White Bear Center for the Arts) The Sparkle Parade will kick off the 2016 On-Ice Program. Audience members are encouraged to join in the fun as pedal bears, dog sleds and people sleds parade around the Shanty Village to celebrate community through the arts.

Water Bar (Artist:: Andrew Jansen) A mobile watering hole with self-serving containers filled with water from regional spring sources. 

Entering the Art Shanties Project.  The Lifeguard is NOT on duty.

Entering the Art Shanties Project.  The Lifeguard is NOT on duty.

People examine merchandise for sale at the Ice Ice Maybe shanty.  The lady behind the counter explained it thusly, "Welcome to Ice Ice Maybe, a faux shopping experience.  If you see something of intrinsic value to your person you may ask us about it and we will explain the process for purchasing it." Unfortunately, I did not find anything of intrinsic value to my person. 

People examine merchandise for sale at the Ice Ice Maybe shanty.  The lady behind the counter explained it thusly, "Welcome to Ice Ice Maybe, a faux shopping experience.  If you see something of intrinsic value to your person you may ask us about it and we will explain the process for purchasing it." Unfortunately, I did not find anything of intrinsic value to my person. 

Art cars on parade.

Art cars on parade.

A good time is had by all at the Art Shanty Projects!

A good time is had by all at the Art Shanty Projects!