Art Shanty Projects on ice for 2019

Decision comes after record turnout for 2018 event on Lake Harriet

A colorful shanty on Lake Harriet, which hosted Art Shanty Projects for the first time in 2018, drawing a record crowd for the event. File photo

A significant budget shortfall has forced Art Shanty Projects to cancel its on-ice program for 2019, the organization announced Tuesday.

That means artist-designed ice shanties won’t be returning this winter to Lake Harriet, where last year 40,000 people visited Art Shanty Projects over three weekends in January and February, setting a record for attendance. It was the first year in the city for the month-long art event, which had previously taken place on White Bear Lake and Medicine Lake, and attendance at the new location was more than double for either of those suburban sites.

The organization learned in late July that it would not receive a critical grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, said Jason Buranen, chair of the 12-member Art Shanty Projects board of directors. That one grant made up “about 70-ish percent of the budget,” he said, and missing out contributed to an $85,000 budget shortfall for the 2019 program.

The entire budget for last year’s event was about $100,000, Buranen said.

The news came too late to seek alternative funding sources for this winter’s on-ice program. A successful 2017 Kickstarter campaign raised over $17,000 for Art Shanty Projects, but Buranen said it didn’t seem possible to duplicate that effort after the organization’s two paid staffers departed earlier this year.

He said the board’s focus now is on developing new “community sources” of funding and making the organization less reliant on grants.

“We’re definitely not going away,” Buranen said. “Missing one grant in one year isn’t going to beat us. Our mission is still to run the art shanty program and put that event on, and we’re working to do that.”

Buranen estimated the “true cost” of the event was closer to $150,000. At that level of funding, Art Shanty Projects could raise the stipends it pays to participating artists, which he said were most recently set at about $1,500 per shanty.

“The fact that we were able to do it on a shoestring in the past doesn’t mean we’re meeting our mission statement,” he said.

An admission fee of just $3.75 would have generated $150,000 for the organization based on 2018 attendance figures. But the organization’s mission also emphasizes accessibility, and Buranen said they are reluctant to put up any barriers to attendance.

“We have always been a free event, we have always accepted donations, and I think we’re going to keep it that way,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Art Shanty Projects has skipped a year on the ice. The program went on hiatus in 2013, and the 2016 event on White Bear Lake was disrupted by unseasonably warm weather and unstable ice conditions.

The inaugural event took place during the winter of 2004-05 on Medicine Lake.

Buranen said the board aimed to keep the event on Lake Harriet. When it announced the move to the city last year, the organization noted that about 70 percent of participating artists and roughly half of the audience lived in Minneapolis.