Art, behind bars

Charles Youel's bike poster show has engaged a global community of cyclists and artists.

Charles Youel and ARTCRANK, his bike poster show, returned to Minneapolis this spring for shows in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Credit: Photo by Rhea Pappas

Born in a city chock-full of bikers and artists, Charles Youel’s ARTCRANK has been a poster child of the Minneapolis cycling community since it launched eight years ago.

Youel, a southwest Minneapolis resident, has taken his Logan Park-based popup bike poster show around the country, growing from a one-off event in a downtown bike shop to a global showcase of cycling culture. ARTCRANK partners with local artists in each host city to create and produce handmade, strictly local-themed posters, each priced to sell.  

ARTCRANK returned to the Twin Cities this spring and is hosting a free extended show through June 27 at Hamilton Ink Spot, 375 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul. We caught up with Youel to hear what the business has in store for the future.

Q: Where did you get idea of doing a bike poster pop-up?

CY: I started the show in 2007 when I was working at an advertising agency here in town as a creative director. At the same time all the people I was riding bikes with were designers and art directors, and there was this dissatisfaction with the work that we were doing from a medium and content standpoint. The official sort of birth moment of the show was actually at another art show where Gene Oberpriller, the owner of One on One Bicycle Studio, and I were just hanging out I just turned to him, and said “We need to do a bike poster show at One on One,” and he said “You’re on.” We rocked the races from there.

Q: A lot more people are interested in biking nowadays. Has that had an effect on ARTCRANK’s audience?

CY: I think that’s something that has actually changed in the time since we’ve been doing the show. When we started in 2007 if you looked at the composition of our audience, it was dominated by the scenester bike people, fixie kids, the messengers — people who bike all the time. And I think the role of bikes in society has gotten broader since then. I think one thing we’ve succeeded in doing, not just in Minneapolis but in other places, is creating an atmosphere where people who would otherwise not have anything in common have all discovered this show of creative expression around bicycles. The scene becomes a little less clicky in that environment. It doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride, or how much you ride, or why you ride. We all have this thing in common, so let’s enjoy that.

Q: Art and cycling are big parts of local culture. Is there an intrinsic Minneapolis quality to the show?

CY: I think Minneapolis has a really strong presence in both those communities. Creativity in almost every sense is statistically overrepresented here for the size of the community, and I think cycling is the same way. You wouldn’t expect a place where the temperature regularly plunges below zero for weeks at a time to lead the nation with bike infrastructure and ridership, but that’s exactly what we’ve done.

I’ve always said this is a show that could’ve started anywhere, but it started here and there are reasons for that. Enthusiasm for creativity and cycling is part of it, but another aspect I’ve noticed here versus other parts of the country and the world is that people in general seem more supportive of new ideas.

Q: ARTCRANK has hosted more than 60 shows across three countries. What has that growth been like?

CY: When I started this show I hadn’t thought beyond a one-time happening. I didn’t want to start a business around bikes and art, I just wanted a good party. In 2009 my full time disappeared and I decided I wasn’t ready to go back to an agency, it was time to do something else. That year we went from being a Minneapolis-only show to having shows in five cities. We’ve done shows in London since 2010 and our first show in Paris in 2013. I think part of the challenge for us has been trying to figure out, with all the places we could go, where should we go. When we decide go to a new city, it’s really gauging the strength of the creative community.

Q: What’s on the road ahead for ARTCRANK?

CY: We’re looking at bringing our first retrospective book featuring posters from shows going back to 2007 for the holiday season this year. We’re also re-launching our website with an online poster shop at the end of July, which is a huge change for us.