Art-A-Whirl and Making Art accessible for the Hoi Polloi

Art-A-Whirl® needs to be cut some slack. Ever since my conversation with Tricia Khutoretsky about this past weekend’s MayDay retrospective installation at Public Functionary, I’ve been a little more aware of some of the negativity that she said is in the air. Khutoretsky had talked to me about how in focusing on In the Heart of the Beast and MayDay, she wanted to give an example of what a neighborhood arts festival could be- one that was inclusive and embracing of all the different diversity and levels of experience of the people participating.

That negativity was something I may have thought myself at times- this idea that Art-A-Whirl isn’t “high art” enough or “contemporary” enough. But since she mentioned it, I think Khutoretsky is absolutely right- we just need to let that go.

Art-A-Whirl reminds me a bit of the Fringe Festival- where you have an event that is hugely accessible to people who aren’t necessarily the normal art-opening crowd. There are people who might never go to see art for the entire year except Art-A-Whirl, just like there are people whose only theater experiences throughout the entire year are going to the fringe.

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To me, that’s a good thing, because you are drawing people into experiences out of their normal routine, and some of those people might be enticed to come back at other art events throughout the year. It’s an opportunity to make connections with people maybe who haven’t been buyers in the past but could be in the future.

All the music shows that have popped up in recent years are another way to draw new audiences in - especially younger folks who may not be used to buying art, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t potential huge arts supporters. All it takes is for those audiences to make a connection with one artist whose work resonates with them to get them coming back.

Art-A-Whirl, an open studio tour coordinated by the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), is also a bit like the various Art Fairs - in Uptown, Powderhorn, Loring Park, etc., in that it draws patrons from all over, but requires a cost on the part of the artist. Where the festivals require the cost of renting a booth, with Art-A-Whirl you must become an NEMAA member at a cost of $72 for the year, and you need to either have a studio in the area, have a relationship with someone who does or be shown in one of the NE galleries. The benefit of that system is that you encourage artists to have studios in the neighborhood, creating a distinctive arts focus that Northeast Minneapolis enjoys throughout the year, but at a cost of being slightly less accessible for artists who want to participate than, say the Fringe Festival, where participants are chosen by lottery.

Still, creating an arts community is something that other neighborhoods around the Twin Cities are now trying to emulate - but Northeast definitely has the advantage of having that community to take root. Of course the NE Minneapolis arts scene isn’t just there because of Art-A-Whirl, but it is a factor.

Maybe the negativity has to do with the capitalistic nature of a festival like that - but why does that have to be negative? I know a number of artists who count on the festival for their overall income for the year. That’s not a bad thing. In this non-profit-heavy town, I think it’s great that ladies are driving in from the suburbs to buy from local artists. We have plenty of inscrutable art shows throughout the year that don’t make any sense to the non-art people. Every once in a while it’s good for the ecosystem to open the doors and say everyone is invited.

CORRECTION 5/19/2014: An annual NEMAA membership of $72 is required to be an official Art-A-Whirl participant. This story was also amended to reflect that Art-A-Whirl is a registered trademark of, and coordinated by, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, and the capitalization of the tour name was corrected to 'Art-A-Whirl.'

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.