Beyond 101: Visit the Art Shanty Projects

I live in a state where winter can occupy the climate for six months of the year – literally.  (I.e., November through April – or longer.)  Fortunately, I also live in a state populated by hearty and determined folk of strong Midwestern stock who refuse to let a little double-digit sub-zero temperatures and a few feet of snow knock them down.  Indeed, my fellow citizens laugh in the face of brutal Arctic conditions; instead of burrowing indoors until the ice melts, people here plan activities that make ice a critical element to success!  In addition to hobbies like broomball and ice fishing, annual events like the Winter Carnival turn what could be perceived as a liability into an asset.  Small towns throughout the state also host localized versions of winter celebrations – but very few are as unique as the Art Shanty Projects.

I heard about the Art Shanty Projects from three different individuals: a colleague, a friend on Facebook, and one of my yoga teachers.  Adhering to my Rule of Three, when  the project was mentioned at the end of savasana last Sunday, I took that as my cue to make the long drive across town, get over my semi-irrational fear of walking on frozen water, and explore a variety of artist-created ice houses spread over a small stretch of winter lake.

Describing the Art Shanty Projects is a slightly challenging task.  The creators of the event describe it this way: “Art Shanty Projects is an artist driven temporary community exploring the ways in which the relatively unregulated public space of the frozen lake can be used as a new and challenging artistic environment to expand notions of what art can be.  The project provides a unique opportunity for artists to interact with their audience, and vice versa, in an un-intimidating, non-gallery like environment. Artists can choose to work in a way that directly engages the audience – i.e. knitting or singing Karaoke – or in a more passive way.  The project must self-govern to respect the environment of the lake and the community of fisher-people that already exists.  We are bringing a new use to a place that already has an established relationship with its patrons.”

Sarah Harper, a journalist for a local indie paper, described the Art Shanty Projects like this: “It’s a juried event, so people have to apply to be able to put their ideas into the form of plywood, paint and 2-by-4s. But you don’t have to be a famous artist, or even a professional one, to get a spot. The result is a wide range of shanties. Some have simple premises, others higher-minded; some are built beautifully, others are a tad more ramshackle.  The event is cool (and cold, heh) because none of the shanties take too long: you’re in, you’re out, you’ve gotten the picture and you’ve been reminded that snow isn’t just the thing your car gets stuck in. It can be the thing you do yoga (“snowga”) in with the free spirits running the Meta Shanty.  It’s not a contest – actually, it’s the exact opposite of a contest.”

My yoga instructor (the gal whose comment nudged me into going to the Art Shanty Projects) described the event like this: “It’s kind of like Burning Man…only family-friendly…and no drugs…and really cold.”  Hmm…. sounds, interesting?

As I have never been to Burning Man, the above description provided me only a vague sense of what the Art Shanty Projects might be like.  But my curiosity was piqued, and my sweetie was game to explore them with me – so yesterday the two of us bundled up in our warmest winter gear, and made our way to a frozen lake to take in the experience.

Now that I have been to the Art Shanty Projects, I can see why they are challenging to describe to someone who has never experienced the event.  To me, the gathering reminded me of a very cold, speed-dating version of the Fringe Festival.  But if a person is unfamiliar with the Fringe, that explanation doesn’t help much, either.  So I think one of the best ways to describe the experience is not to talk about it, but to show it.  With that, I give you…

(As lived by Stef)

1. Pedal Bear

As my sweetie and I left solid land and forged a path across the ice (gulp), the very first thing we saw was the Pedal Bear.  I hadn’t planned on taking photos during this outing (since I wanted to keep my body as warm as possible, and the outdoor air temp was a mere 8 degrees F), but as soon as I saw the Pedal Bear, I knew that plan was out the window; this stuff was too good not to document:

01_polar pedal

As my husband and I crossed in front of this contraption, the little “bear” steering the big bear around the lake yelled, “RAAAAWWWWRRRR!!  Get out of my way, or I’ll eat you! RRAAWWWRRR!”  then laughed.  Awesome.

From the creators: “Engage in conversations about climate change, alternative transportation, and innovative use of recycled materials while pedaling the Pedal Bear! A larger than life polar bear will rove across White Bear Lake powered by the kinetic energy of our shanty audience.”

Pedal Bear was like a PedalPub, but without the alcohol, and on ice instead of the street.

The Pedal Bear was massive; I was impressed with the size of the big bear as I was the personality of the little steering “bear”.  Here’s a close-up of both of them:

02_polar pedal close up

2. The Curling Clubhouse Ice Shanty

From the creators: “Here you’ll find everything you need to engage with the sport of Curling! The Curling Clubhouse Ice Shanty will provide a modified rink, instructional diagrams and lessons. But wait that’s not all! The shanty itself will provide an observation deck and warming house complete with a small gallery on the history of curling.”

The above description is exactly what this shanty delivered:

03_curling indoors

From the interior of the shanty. The walls inside the space had a variety of curling-related information – including the 2014 Olympic schedule!

04_curling outdoors

Just outside the shanty – a lovely curling area.

3. The Mailroom

From the creators: “A surrealist shanty, once inside visitors are inside The Mailroom they are transported to a lonely hotel hallway for a moment of solitude with an  invitation to share anonymous stories.”

Again, this description is quite apt; here is what I encountered when I entered The Mailroom:


4. The Dance Shanty

Upbeat music from inside this PVC-pipe-and-tarp construction entertained the entire lake – and passers-by were invited inside to dance for as much (or as little) as they wanted.  When my sweetie and I entered the Dance Shanty, the hosts welcomed us with a huge “Woo hoo!”  It was a wonderful way to be greeted.  🙂  My sweetie and I jumped around inside the Dance Shanty for a song, then continued on our exploration.

The Dance Shanty welcomes all event participants - young, old, and everyone in between.

The Dance Shanty welcomes all event participants – young, old, and everyone in between.

5. North Flicks

As my sweetie and I approached the North Flicks shanty, the first thing we saw was a window. I peered in, and couldn’t really make out what was going on inside:

08_north flicks window_looking in

Some sort of art/craft project – but what exactly?  Now a bit more curious, I walk in the shanty for a closer look:

09_zoetrope sign

A sign informed me I could “Create my own zoetrope”.

But what’s a zoetrope?  As I looked at the materials on a table, I deducted that a zoetrope is a circular version of a flip book. (Both of these items are simple forms of animation.)


The strip of a face appearing (in the bottom right corner of the picture) is what helped me figure out the objective of this shanty.

Fun!  But the space was crowded, so I decided to let the kids make the craft; my sweetie and I continued on to the next shanty.

6. The Creep Shanty

From the creators: “Who says we can only be creeped out at Halloween?  This Haunted attic will house a variety of disturbing yet engaging activities. Have your photo taken with a washed–up post–holiday Santaclown. Visit with demonic toy puppets. Sit down at the Donner Dinner Party. Hopefully you make it out of The Creep Shanty with your wits about you.”

11_aim to offend 12_shame break

Oh darn, we missed this one.  Oh well.  🙂

7. Lost Found and Wanted

13_lost found and wanted

From the creators: “An art shanty version of the want ads. Lost, Found & Wanted Shanty will be making connections all over shantytown throughout the month. Visit a real old fashioned typewriter in this shanty to write up and post what you’ve lost, what you’ve found, a personals ad, or something to trade. With visitors encouraged to share both real and fictional needs, exchanges, and invitations this shanty is sure to help make dreams come true.”

From inside the shanty:



The sign on the door made me smile:

16_door is alarmed

I can’t tell if the door is alarmed as in it will sound loudly should someone attempt to break in (which is laughable, considering that the shanty is made of plywood and contains nothing valuable inside), or if the door is alarmed as in it is worried about the contents within its four walls. I like the absurdity behind both interpretations. 🙂

8. Drama/Puppet Therapy Circus – Sami Shanty

17_therapy circus

Approaching this shanty, my sweetie and I saw a few interesting pieces outside:

18_inward looking chair

Sometimes a chair is just a chair. And sometimes not. 🙂

19_outward reflection chair

From the creators: “In the tradition of the Sami structure known as the Lavvu, the Drama/Puppet Therapy Circus Shanty will encourage audiences to look either to their past or their  future for inspiration in participating in this shanty’s activities. Visitors will be given the choice to perform or observe and the line between private confessions and performative scripts will be blurred.”

While this sounds fascinating, this shanty was very full when my sweetie and I approached; and in the interest of staying warm, we decided to continue on.

9. Ice Ice Maybe

20_ice ice maybe

From the creator: “The Shanty’s primer high-end boutique specializing in the commodification of timelessness, Ice Ice Maybe offers the finest ice encased objects that money can’t buy.”

When we entered this shanty, the greeter welcomed us very warmly, and explained the concept: “Ice Ice Maybe is the only retail shanty on the lake.  On the ledge outside you will find a variety of treasures; if you deem any of them to be intrinsic to your nature or anything that you need, bring it inside.  I will ask you a series of questions about the item, and determine if it should belong to you.”  Hmm, interesting!  I stepped outside the shanty to “shop”:

21_ice trinkets

22_more ice trinkets

But none of the items available for “purchase” called out to me – so my sweetie and I kept on walking.

10. Elevator Shanty

Within ten feet, we found ourselves outside a strikingly real-looking elevator – complete with a lobby!


24_elevator lobby

But please remember that we are literally on a lake.  Very intrigued, we stood in line to ride the “elevator”.

As we waited for the elevator to return to the ground floor (and yes, the numbers above the door were changing as we were waiting), the artist in charge of the shanty asked, “So, do you folks know what to do in an elevator?”  Um, yes?  She continued, “So, you know that you have to push a button to go anywhere, right?  Because some folks out here, they  walk into the elevator – but then they just stand there.  I guess they don’t know that the elevator won’t move unless they actually press a button…”  We smiled.  Point taken.

A second later the doors opened, and my sweetie and I entered the space along with six or eight other people.  The man nearest the control panel asked us what floors we needed.  A few folks tossed out numbers (“Six!” “Nine, please.”  “Eight.”), and the man pressed the corresponding buttons:

25_elevator interior

Again, this is inside a plywood box on a LAKE! Yet it felt like a real elevator. So friggin’ cool.

A second later the floor of the elevator felt like the box was really going up!  Now, I ride an elevator at least ten times every day when I’m at work, so my body knows exactly what the sensation of an elevator ride feels like – and this experience was spot on.  It was the strangest feeling.  Incredible.

From the creator: “While waiting in the ice-lobby visitors cannot even begin to imagine where the Elevator Shanty will take them. With elevator themed music, puns, and general rowdiness the Elevator Shanty will surely take you to new heights on the ice.”

11. The Jigsaw Shanty

26_puzzle shanty

As my sweetie and I approached this shanty, we saw jumbo-sized puzzle pieces in the area outside the door:

28_make a puzzle

Once we stepped inside the shanty, we found out what was going on:

27_puzzle shanty wall

Each wall of the shanty was a puzzle!  The host of the shanty invited us to write a secret on one of the walls; next weekend’s visitors to the shanty would construct our wall as they made their own.  By the end of the month, all four walls would be decorated and re-constructed – and the Jigsaw Shanty would be complete.  Cool!

12. Speak Your Truth/ This I Believe Shanty

29_high school art shanty

The instructions for this shanty were posted on the door, and read: “Enter – wait for eyes to adjust.  Artwork made by Southwest High School students based on what they believe. 3 people at a time.”

After entering the shanty and waiting for my eyes to get used to the dim light, I saw a lovely mixed-medium piece:

30_high school art

My favorite.

13. Are You a Robot/Monster?

31_robot monster exterior

From the creators: “In the age of Instagram and Facebook uploads what could be more fun than getting your picture taken as a Robot or Monster? This shanty revives the tradition of cardboard cutout photos in Art Shanty fashion.”

When I peered inside the shanty, I saw this:

32_robot monster interior

A classic stick-your-face-in-the-hold-and-become-a-creature display!  The entire shanty provided robots and monsters of various shapes and sizes on both the inside and outside of the space; probably 20 different options in all?  But this one was my favorite:

33_puppy monster

Puppy monster! 🙂 What a cutie.

14. The Wind Shanty

From the creators: “Celebrating the blissfulness of wind, this shanty will invite all who enter to reflect and play with the wind. Writings about wind will be encouraged as will all kinds of interactive wind games such as flying kites, designing your own wind spirals and wind dancing.”

Outside of this shanty I saw one person skiing behind a kite (an activity that seems perfectly suited for a frozen lake), and inside I saw a variety of very unique wind chimes.  Here’s one sample:

34_wind shanty

A perfect chime for a poet.

15. Cook Yourself Kitchen and Ski Up Refrigerator

A.K.A. – A sauna.

Yes, a real wooden sauna was attached to a small shanty.  From the creator: “Bastefully enjoy cooking yourself and other visitors in a traditional Finnish sauna. Not into cooking? Visit on Sundays for an eclectic line up of performances hosted  in the Ski Up Refrigerator.”

My sweetie and I visited the shanty on a Saturday, so I don’t know what the ‘Ski Up Refrigerator’ is all about; but the sauna is the real deal.  I didn’t go in (there was a big line), but I saw lots of people going in (and coming out), and they were definitely warm after visiting this one!

35_sauna shanty

The sauna. The attached shanty is to the right, just beyond the snow wall.

16. The Meta Shanty

36_meta shanty

From the creators: “Rejuvenate yourself in this metaphysical space for decompression. Inside the geodesic dome of The Meta Shanty you will find Loving Kindness Meditation, Astrological Readings, Taro Cards, and Essential Oils Workshops. Out on the ice you can participate in Snowga (yoga in snowsuits), Qi-gong, and Tai-Chi.”

Now this is my kind of shanty!  Sadly, when my sweetie and I were walking by, none of the outdoor activities were occurring.  And though I wanted to explore this shanty, I didn’t want to remove my boots (again, I was attempting to preserve my body heat as much as I could), so I just walked past this one.  Sad.  😦

17. Town Hall Shanty

From the creators: “Hear ye, Hear ye, people of Art Shanty Town are invited to, well, name the town! Visitors to the Town Hall Shanty will be invited to participate in governing Art Shanty Town through opportunities ranging from creating a code of law to designing a flag and seal. Outside of the Town Hall Shanty is a village green for public discourse and celebrations.”

Apparently Carl was one of the first visitors to this shanty, as the Town Hall was named after him:

37_town hall carl

I suppose I could have re-named the Town Hall after myself, if I asked for a dry erase marker….

Inside, the shanty offered a variety of clever programs and events:

38_town hall carl event

As well as some cool art postcards (made by the shanty creators, and sharing an important message):

39_town hall carl art

Outside of the shanty, the Town Hall did have a “village green” (white), complete with official city bell!

40_town hall carl bell

(Yes, we rang it.)  🙂

18. Sunrise Shanty 

42_sunrise shanty explanation

More from the creators: “Share the intimacy and preciousness of watching the sunrise with a small group of shanty goers in the Sunrise Shanty. Utilizing a solar-powered dawn simulator small groups will sit together first in the darkness and slowly getting to know each other over the course of an imitation daybreak.”

A lover of the sun, I was excited to experience a unique sunrise.  My sweetie and I entered the shanty, and sat it two chairs the creators had set out.  One of the creators nodded in our direction and said, “Hello,” while the other one looked off into space while simultaneously cooking something on a very small wood-burning stove.  I smiled at the artist who greeted us.  The four of us then sat in silence.  A few seconds later four more visitors came into the space, and the two creators treated them in the same fashion.  The new visitors smiled back, and now the eight of us sat in silence.  After a full minute of silence, the four newest additions left the space; after another full minute of silence, my sweetie and I also departed.  Upon leaving the shanty, I saw this sign:

43_sunrises every 30 min

I guess that explains it?

While I was disappointed to not see an indoor sunrise (or sunset), I was impressed by the real wood-burning stove.  It made the shanty nice and warm.  Cozy.

41_sunrise shanty

The exterior of the Sunrise Shanty. It ain’t much to look at, but it sure felt good inside!

One shanty that we walked by but didn’t enter was Noah’s Art Shanty.  The space was absolutely packed each time my sweetie and I walked by (as in, another body literally could not fit beyond the door); after our third time past this shanty, we decided to just skip it.

One shanty that we never saw (but that apparently was at the event) was The Music Box Shanty.  I wonder how we missed that one?

After an hour of being out on the lake, I was ready to get out of the wind.  I felt really happy by all that I had seen and experienced – but I also wanted my face and hand to get warm.  (My left hand was fine; it was my right hand that was a wee bit frozen from being exposed due to all the picture taking.  [But it was worth it.])  🙂

As my sweetie and I walked off the lake to head back to the parking lot and into our warm car, we passed by this sign:

44_no swimming

Yeah, that seems about right.  🙂


About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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16 Responses to Beyond 101: Visit the Art Shanty Projects

  1. Christine says:

    What a cool art installation! I think the elevator and mailroom displays looked really neat!


    • Stef says:

      The elevator was definitely the most impressive. But Polar Pedal was a close second! I preferred This I Believe to the the mailroom – but all of the installations were pretty incredible, actually.


  2. what a fun and interesting outing. I would have been the one with hot chocolate shanty!


  3. Ruth says:

    Brilliant documentation of an otherwise unknown event!


  4. Jen Payne says:

    Can I “like” this post several times? What fun!


  5. narami says:

    This sounds totally wicked. In the best way!


  6. Jennie Saia says:

    Thank you for the photos! I’m sorry your poor hand suffered, but I feel like I was there! I had no idea – what glorious creative things human beings are. 🙂


  7. Pingback: Day 474 | Three Daily Delights

  8. maurnas says:

    This is the first time I have ever felt jealous of cold weather people. New life goal: Go to this!


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