THE WEDGE — When the Polar Vortex slumped below the Canadian border a few days before the Winter Solstice, few were cheering on the mercury’s plunge as heartily as Dawn Bentley.
Bentley is the executive director of Art Shanty Projects, the nonprofit that organizes an annual exhibition of artist-designed ice fishing houses on a frozen metro-area lake. After a hiatus over the winter of 2014–2015, the project returned to White Bear Lake last February, only to have its stay cut short by unseasonable warmth.
Bentley, who was overseeing her first on-ice program since being hired to run the organization in the fall of 2014, made the unprecedented decision to pull the shanties onto the shore just two weekends in to a planned four-week run.
“We were experiencing crowds of about 1,500 a day, and it was like 50 degrees,” she said. “It was just unsafe.”
In December, Bentley was busily planning this year’s program — scheduled for frozen White Bear Lake in February — while at the same time preparing for a Jan. 7 kick-off event and fundraiser hosted by Soo Visual Arts Center. So, when the official reading at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport hit 20 degrees below zero on Dec. 18, Bentley took it as a good omen.
“I feel really good about 2017,” she said. “We’re getting a decent start to this winter.”
A decent start interrupted by a Christmas Day rainstorm, but that’s Minnesota weather in the era of climate change for you.
Bentley can’t control the jet stream or call in an Alberta Clipper, but Art Shanty Projects’ finances are another story, and in 2015 she secured the organization a 17-month, $100,000 ArtPlace grant for creative placemaking. That grant provided a substantial portion of the funding for last year’s abbreviated on-ice program, and it will help to get this year’s roster of 20 artist-designed shanties out onto the ice in February.
This year’s program runs every weekend Feb. 4–26 (10 a.m.–4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday) out on the ice near White Bear Lake County Park. If another bout of weird winter weather turns the lake to slush, Bentley’s plan B is to pull the shanties onto the shore and go on with the show.
The one-night exhibition and kick-off event at SooVAC will include photo documentation of a decade of Art Shanty Projects — going back to its early days on Medicine Lake in the western suburbs — as well as mini-installations of Art Shanty objects and ephemera.
“If you’re a long-term shanty fan, this is where you can come and reminisce,” Bentley said.
Art Shanty Projects kick-off event
When: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. Jan. 7
Where: Soo Visual Arts Center, 2909 Bryant Ave. S.