Live at Art-A-Whirl

The art is not just hanging on the walls, itÂ’s being made during the 20th-annual Northeast Minneapolis open studio tour


As Northeast prepared for this month’s 20th go-round of Art-A-Whirl, John Akre was revisiting some video he shot in 1996, during the annual open studio tour’s very first year.

Those interviews and crowd scenes were intended to be part of a longer documentary that never quite got made, but Akre’s planning to reuse some of the footage in a short animated film he’ll be creating during this year’s Art-A-Whirl. Stop by his “animation station” (studio 245, Northrup King Building), and you could end up in the film, too.

The tens of thousands of whirlers who flood into Northeast each May aren’t there just to see art hanging on studio walls. Akre’s project is just one example of how live and interactive art making — from performance to printmaking to portrait painting — has become an essential part of the Art-A-Whirl experience.

Earlier this year, Northeast won a USA Today readers’ choice poll for the country’s “Best Arts District.” Akre remembered that first Art-A-Whirl as a sort of coming-out party for today’s Northeast, a post-industrial neighborhood transformed into a cultural destination by the artists who called it home.

“It just kind of opened my eyes to what was going on in the neighborhood I lived in,” he said. “… I moved in because I had artist friends who were moving in, but I just didn’t know there was so much going on.”

The two decades of history accumulated since then are the subject of Akre’s stop-motion animation project, which will be the third he’s produced over an Art-A-Whirl weekend. Visitors to his studio are invited to share an Art-A-Whirl memory or even create a scene.

“I have some art supplies out, so I encourage people to make things ­— make either puppets or come up with a plan for something they want to animate,” he said. “ Last year, I had several people who basically stayed there for hours one day.”

This will be just the second Art-A-Whirl experience for Sarah Riley, a recent University of Wisconsin–Superior graduate who’s moving to Minneapolis in May. Find Riley inside Tres Leches gallery (studio 173, Northrup King Building), where she’ll be demonstrating portrait painting for the crowd.

“I’ve been told I work unusually quickly for an oil painter,” Riley said, adding that a typical portrait takes her between two and 12 hours.

Performance anxiety? Not her.

“I get in the zone and I love doing it so much,” she said. “It’s like this magical thing happens.”

The paintings of Barbara Roche inspired her friend Deborah Elias, a flamenco dancer and director of Danza Espanola, to create two new dance pieces she’ll perform the Friday and Saturday evening of Art-A-Whirl in Roche’s studio (studio 442, Northrup King Building). Elias described the performance works, whose development was supported by a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, as “like a painting and dance in dramatic vignette.”

The painting in question is “Damnation,” which Roche said was about “the idea of the inevitability of death.” Yes, she acknowledged, it sounds a little heavy for Art-A-Whirl, but flamenco is a form that thrives on intense emotion. Elias said her dance explores both Roche’s “artistic drive to create that painting” and the catharsis that followed its completion.

Swing by Angel Bomb, the design and letterpress studio run by Todd Thyberg (room 271, Northrup King Building), to see his 1950s-era press in action and take home a souvenir coaster. Thyberg regularly fires up his press for Art-A-Whirl, and he said the clattering machine fascinates children and, he joked, “older men who are being drug to this art event by their wives and who have more interest in machinery.”

Need a break from the crowd? Search out the Poetry Fort (second-floor common area, Solar Arts Building) where between noon and 5 p.m. Sunday, the final day of Art-A-Whirl, local poets will take turns reading inside a tiny cloth tent.

It’s an intimate experience, according to poet Paula Cisewski, who said the tent’s capacity is five to seven people, maximum. But hundreds cycled in and out of the “mini-yurt” during its debut at last year’s Art-A-Whirl, Cisewski said.

“There’s something really nice about having that small of a group where it can remove the poet-audience barrier,” she said.

The total audience for Art-A-Whirl is estimated at 30,000–50,000 people, according to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, but performance artist Jaime Carrera noticed that somehow didn’t discourage a couple from planning a wedding reception in the Solar Arts building right in the middle of the festival. That inspired “Wed” (second-floor common area, Solar Arts Building), a collaborative performance with painter Caitlin Karolczak that Carrera described as a partly improvised, partly choreographed, fake wedding reception. It starts at 2 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

“We want it to be an awkward situation where maybe you didn’t get invited to this, maybe you did, but you still want to have fun and be a part of it,” he said.

Carrera, no stranger to drag, is the bride in “Wed,” while Karolczak dons a beard and suit to play the groom. Expect toasts, cake, group photos and all the usual wedding elements remixed by Carrera and Karolczak.

Crashers welcome.



When: 5 p.m.–10 p.m. May 15, noon–8 p.m. May 16 and noon–5 p.m. May 17

Where: Northeast Minneapolis Arts District