Minnesota Festival On Ice Melts Art's Boundaries

  • At the Art Shanty festival on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minn., the ICE-Cycles shanty uses a bit of fun (and weather-appropriate tires) to try to encourage wintertime bike riding.
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    At the Art Shanty festival on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minn., the ICE-Cycles shanty uses a bit of fun (and weather-appropriate tires) to try to encourage wintertime bike riding.
    Nathaniel Freeman/nathanielhfreeman.com
  • Festival attendees listen to a tour from the Audio Adventure Shanty through headphones that double as another layer of insulation.
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    Festival attendees listen to a tour from the Audio Adventure Shanty through headphones that double as another layer of insulation.
  • Most visitors to Art Shanty dress in the usual winter wear, but a few wear their own works of art, like a coat made of caution tape.
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    Most visitors to Art Shanty dress in the usual winter wear, but a few wear their own works of art, like a coat made of caution tape.
  • The big green egg of the SitandSpinShanty can whirl riders in a circle.
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    The big green egg of the SitandSpinShanty can whirl riders in a circle.
  • A periscope at the bottom of the Robot Reprise shanty gives visitors a robot's-eye-view of the frozen lake.
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    A periscope at the bottom of the Robot Reprise shanty gives visitors a robot's-eye-view of the frozen lake.
  • The Shantyquarian, Art Shanty's daily newspaper, is printed by hand at the Letterpress Shanty. Most of the content comes from Twitter (#shantyq).
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    The Shantyquarian, Art Shanty's daily newspaper, is printed by hand at the Letterpress Shanty. Most of the content comes from Twitter (#shantyq).
  • Even temperatures in the teens can't keep people away from Art Shanty. Luckily, most of the shanties themselves are heated.
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    Even temperatures in the teens can't keep people away from Art Shanty. Luckily, most of the shanties themselves are heated.

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Call it the Burning Man of the Midwest: a temporary city built around artistic expression. Only this one takes place in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the middle of winter.

Minnesota is known for its 10,000 lakes. When the lakes freeze for the winter, the state is known for its ice fishing and its ice shanties — little homemade fishing shacks full of heaters, radios and bottles of schnapps.

On Medicine Lake, 20 shanties are part of a festival called Art Shanty Projects. They're filled with art and dance parties. The festival closes next weekend, and organizers expect about 10,000 visitors before it's done.

Although it's a bitter 15 degrees, hundreds of people are out, bundled in winter coats, long underwear and the occasional neon jumpsuit.

"This whole project kind of expands people's ideas of what art can be," says Peter Haakon Thompson, who co-founded Art Shanty in 2004. "I think a lot of people are intimidated by museums and galleries, and think that they're going to do something wrong when they're there. And there's definitely not that feeling out here."

Students and teachers from the Volunteers of America SALT (Service Adventure Leadership Team) High School run the 30 Star Shanty. Students demonstrate traditional crafts like block printing and quilting. i i

hide captionStudents and teachers from the Volunteers of America SALT (Service Adventure Leadership Team) High School run the 30 Star Shanty. Students demonstrate traditional crafts like block printing and quilting.

Nathaniel Freeman
Students and teachers from the Volunteers of America SALT (Service Adventure Leadership Team) High School run the 30 Star Shanty. Students demonstrate traditional crafts like block printing and quilting.

Students and teachers from the Volunteers of America SALT (Service Adventure Leadership Team) High School run the 30 Star Shanty. Students demonstrate traditional crafts like block printing and quilting.

Nathaniel Freeman

All sorts of people are skidding around the frozen lake. Sixteen-year-old Lu Xiao Ge is with a group of 54 Chinese exchange students, who are almost speechless at the sight.

"It's [a] surprise. It's not normal," she says. "I like it very much."

There are some great installations out on the ice. A giant robot waves its arms, and a daily newspaper is printed by hand on an old letterpress.

Then a weirdly silent mob of people starts dancing. They all sport fuzzy pink headphones from the Audio Adventure Shanty, which give them the beat. One dancer lifts his headphones to share the music and offers up another pair.

Artist Nathaniel Freeman says this sort of interplay — a kind of conversation between audience and artist — has really become the focus.

"I think before it was kind of about creating fantastic things to come witness, and now it really seems to be about creating fantastic things to come interact with," he says.

Also, Freeman says, people come out because it's Minnesota.

"Winter's so legit here. People really do fish out of ice shanties," he says. "So that feels like there's a good entry point."

However, most shanties wouldn't have a local folk music trio playing up in the loft.

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