Art-A-Whirl springs again

Get on the bus: the Northeast arts event blends new and old

Photo by Kristin Lebben Credit: Sculptor Heidi Hoy in the Northrup King Building in Northeast.

Whether you greet it with a primal scream or an affirmative murmur, spring is belatedly back in Minneapolis, and it’s time to get out and meet the city once more: It’s a good thing Art-A-Whirl is right around the corner.

Now in its 18th year, the Northeast arts event is all grown up, expecting more than 30,000 people in attendance, featuring art installations, demonstrations, live music, food and drink and more.

Once again held on the third weekend in May, Art-A-Whirl will take place May 17, 18 and 19 throughout the Northeast Arts District and beyond.

“It started off with a couple artists, maybe a couple hundred people in a couple locations, and now we’re at over 500 artists in over 70 locations,” said Alejandra Pelinka, the executive director of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), which presents the event each year.

“It’s grown from just being an artists’ studio tour to being a neighborhood, community celebration, but all really tying back into the arts and the artists and what they’ve contributed to the community,” she said.

The current scope of Art-A-Whirl can be, as Pelinka said, “intimidating,” featuring much more to see and do than an average person could accomplish in a handful of days.

Here we’ll try to distill the rookies and the vets to help you navigate this year’s Art-A-Whirl.

The art

In the Northrup King building, 1500 Jackson St. NE, Icebox Gallery will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with a show called “Heart and Soul,” a continuation of the recently closed anniversary show, “The Icebox Years.”

“Icebox is the first art gallery in Northeast,” said Howard Christopherson, the founder of Icebox. “We started in 1988.”

“Heart and Soul” is the 125th exhibit at Icebox and will be “huge,” Christopherson said. It will feature multimedia work by many well-known artists, including photographers such as John Cohen, who photographed a young Bob Dylan, and Erika Stone, as well as work from sculptor James Edward Dahl, who died last year.

Work by others such as Alec Soth, Flo Fox, Kerri Pickett, Will Agar and Eduardo Blidner will also be on display.

“It would be one show during Art-A-Whirl that you wouldn’t want to miss,” Christopherson said.

One of the newest galleries in Northeast is Public Functionary, a Kickstarter funded nonprofit located at 1200 12th Ave. NE.

“We’re excited to be the newest art space in Northeast,” said Tricia Khutoretsky, director and curator of Public Functionary. “Our programming over Art-A-Whirl weekend will hopefully add something new to the experience this year.”

Public Functionary will be offering extended hours for its first exhibit, “Dzine: Victory,” featuring work from Chicago-based artist Carlos Rolon, aka Dzine (as in “Design”).

Per Public Functionary, “Dzine melds ghetto, baroque, bling and psychedelic influences in a playfully ironic way, creating work that ranks among the most unique in American contemporary art today.”

Dzine will be at the gallery Saturday and Sunday; an artist talk and other in-gallery functions are in the works, Public Functionary has details to come.

NEMAA will be holding it’s annual fundraiser, the official Art-A-Whirl Silent Auction, on the third floor of Northrup King throughout weekend.

“What makes it so fabulous is that it has one piece of artwork from 120 of our members,” Pelinka said. “They vary in sizes, they vary in starting bids and they vary in values.”

Elsewhere, the Grain Belt Art Studios will hold a fundraiser for East Side Neighborhood Services at the Grain Belt Bottling House, 79 13th Ave. NE, featuring $30, 5-by-7- inch artworks by resident artists, available on a first come basis.

The opening will be Friday, May 17, from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. and feature music from the bluegrass band The High 48’s, as well as a cash bar. The event runs through the Art-A-Whirl weekend and will present multimedia work by guest artists as well.

One of Pelinka’s Art-A-Whirl “standbys” is where it all began, the Thorpe building at 1620 Central Ave. NE.

“It always has a tremendous variety of things going on, performances, they have ‘Brickmania,’” she said, describing the Lego block installation. “There’s always something interesting going on there that you won’t see anywhere else.”

For those with children in tow, Pelinka said there are two kid-friendly diversions during Saturday’s events.

The Learning for Leadership Charter School will set up shop at the PNA Hall, 1304 4th St. NE, from 12 p.m.–5 p.m., with live music, painting, hat making and games.

The Grace Center at NE Community Lutheran Church, 1500 6th St. NE, will feature arts and crafts, their playground, and a bouncy castle.

“That’ll be a pretty nice way to get kids’ energy released,” Pelinka said. 

The infrastructure 

New for 2013, NEMAA worked out a deal with Metro Transit to provide free transportation to-and-from Art-A-Whirl for Saturday and Sunday.

Starting May 3, Metro Transit passes for Art-A-Whirl will be available to download on the NEMAA website. The passes are valid 11 a.m.–9 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.–6 p.m. on Sunday, an hour before, and after the event, each day.

“We’re starting to really focus on especially the suburbs and starting to get them here. That’s why we formed the Metro Transit partnership,” Pelinka said. “We really want to make sure that it’s really accessible for people to come in.”

Also for Saturday and Sunday, two trolleys will provide free transportation all day throughout Northeast, running in opposite directions. In past years, there has only been one trolley; Twin City Trolleys sponsored the expanded service.

“[The Trolley’s are] just a fun way to bounce around from place to place and back to where you parked, or the place where your bus dropped you off,” Pelinka said.

NEMAA is conducting its Crowd Count Project for the second year in a row using the Art-A-Whirl Passport.

Pelinka also urges Art-A-Whirl attendees to pick up the 2013 NEMAA Artist Directory & Guide, which can be found at all the major studio buildings and at information booths.

“The directories are a guide and helpful for Art-A-Whirl but we encourage people to keep them year round because they’re really resources for the artists and restaurants and events in Northeast,” she said.

The Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce is also holding its annual Art-A-Whirl Kick-Off Breakfast on May 15, 7:30–9 a.m., at Corporate Art Force, 1400 Van Buren St., Suite 175. 

The rest 

As Art-A-Whirl has grown, so have its musical options. Grumpy’s Northeast will hold its 15th annual Art-A-Whirl party on Saturday, from 1 p.m. until well after dark, with bands like Seawhores, L’Assassins, House of Large Sizes and Dillinger Four.

Down University Avenue, the 331 Club is offering a huge line-up that will play both indoors and out through all three days of Art-A-Whirl weekend. With more than 20 acts lined up, 331 is the destination for the musical-minded, featuring Gospel Gossip, Story of the Sea, Marijuana Deathsquads, The Sudden Lovelys, Ginkgo and Night Moves, among many more.

For those who may end up hungry during Art-A-Whirl, Northeast boasts plenty of eating options.

“We really try to focus people to eat locally at the restaurants that are here year-round,” Pelinka said, noting the weekend abundance of food trucks from all over.

Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room, 2500 University Ave. NE, is going big this year with an Art-A-Whirl block party that will shut down part of Lowry Avenue on Saturday.

Starting at 1 p.m., Stanley’s is throwing its 1st Annual Craft Beer Festival at Art-A-Whirl featuring almost 100 beers from more than 30 breweries. Tickets for the beer festival are $59.

Following the beer festival, at 5 p.m., the block party will be open to all for free, featuring live music, food and beer.


If you go …


Overview: The largest open art studio tour in the country.

When: May 17–19

Where: More than 70 locations throughout Northeast, including studios, galleries, homes, storefronts, restaurants and businesses.