What to do at Art-A-Whirl, from a veteran “whirler”


The tornado’s an apt analogy for what can actually happen at Art-A-Whirl—no matter what your original plan was, you bump into a lot of art and ideas that you might not have expected.

You can get swept up in the crowd that wants to “see as much as we can in a short period of time” in the big buildings, or bounce around on the fringes dropping in at home studios and temporary galleries. Or map out a combination of visits tied to time-certain events of all sorts; art-making demonstrations, music, dance, a lobster boil, t-shirt making, and more. A list of about 40 time-certain events is at www.NEMAA.org, click on “AAW Special Events.”

Looking at the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) 2011 Artist Directory, you won’t find the dates of Art-A-Whirl on the front cover. (It’s May 20-22, by the way, hours listed on directory page 7, 5-10 Friday, Noon-8 Saturday, Noon-5 Sunday).

To emphasize that the directory can be used to find visual artists (NEMAA’s focus) all year long, they list Art-A-Whirl with other recurring arts events on the cover with details of those events on page 6. Note: the Fall Fine Arts Show has been moved to September 23-24-25 this year.

Some attending Art-A-Whirl might note the monthly or building-specific events and choose to avoid the crowds and visit those buildings during those more focused times. But then, one might miss the packing-in of non-resident artists and live performances that come with the draw of Art-A-Whirl. The uncategorizeable or unadvertised. The stuff of which this “bumping into” is made.

As a former Art-A-Whirl coordinator, I cringe when I see the Art-A-Whirl event characterized as a big party, because I know most who are involved have goals of selling work and meeting people who might later buy. And that art buyers are looking to discover artists without having to make appointments. Each artist, studio, and building has their own approach, and its success is affected by so many other factors around them. But that’s community.

For this article, I started out with this premise that I thought easily provable: Find a selection of Northeast resident artists showing at their owned homes/studios/galleries. The quest created a little tornado of its own, spun out beyond the original premise:

Grant Boulanger, Boulanger Pottery, who offers pottery classes in English and Spanish, is permanently moving his home and studio to Saint Paul on the weekend of Art-A-Whirl, so will not be open after all. He emailed, “I really wanted to have one last sale here, but that would have been just too much. I’ll be open by appointment by the end of May and will resume private classes in June in the new studio.” His website: BoulangerPottery.com.

At Carhole Gallery, Amy Moran, 1842 Quincy St. NE, said “I don’t think I or my husband would describe ourselves as artists. But we are Northeast Minneapolis community members who appreciate and support the arts. Last year was the first time we dropped canvas to transform our fabulous garage into a studio space. I got the idea when I went to LA to visit my sister and we attended an art crawl. Someone had lined the inside of a big truck with white paper and used that as studio space. I thought, why not do that with our garage? So we did! And it was a great success. Last year, we hosted three painters, a potter, two child artists, and a publisher and her small press. This year, more of the same. I guess it’s a creative use of space and an interesting way to build community. Maybe we’re more artistic than we think we are!”

While the Carhole Gallery is a NEMAA member, the artists showing are not necessarily. While some resident or Northeast-studio based artists may resent the non-resident artists who show up just for Art-A-Whirl, others see it as a challenge to entice them to bring their talents here year-round to expand, diversify and improve the arts district. That’s, in fact, a motivation of many who invite non-resident friends in to share their spaces.

Furniture maker Tom Oliphant, who left the Northrup King building to join his wife, an interior designer, at her studio in the Midway area of Saint Paul a few years ago, is back this year, but at Maren Kloppmann Ceramics in the Frost building, 1209 Tyler St. NE, Suite 105. She is also hosting Scott McGlasson of Woodsport. Oliphant said the “public is not quite as aware” of the area where his studio is, it’s “not as organized” as Art-A-Whirl and he’s “thankful NEMAA welcomes outside artists” to be members. “It’s too small a city” to have arts areas competing against each other, he said, the consumer will only go to a certain number of events.

Geoff Bush met John and Jan Gairy of 2014 Central Avenue through a mutual friend when the Gairys lived in New York, and now Bush is managing space rentals for them on Central Avenue. He’ll have his own I Ching Arts (based on a Confucian Chinese tradition) on display in the basement, 2014-1/2 Central, as well as works by a watercolorist, a photographer and painter, and “perceptual artworks.”

Several NEMAA members will be at Susan Fryer Voigt’s studio and Gallery at Dock 5, Northrup King Building, 1500 Jackson St. NE. Voigt and her husband Bill tired of the commute from White Bear Lake to her studio, originally on one of NK’s upper floors. They eventually bought a duplex within walking distance.

Margie Rotondo (left, in her gallery with a worn-out violin she covered in mosaic) 1026 24th Ave. NE, did a lot of beading while nursing her parents in their last months. Her serendipitous working life in a flower shop and a craft store combined to set her up with mosaic materials and a sense of display; she’ll have all kinds of work for sale. Last year was her first year opening the studio behind her garage to Art-A-Whirlers; she said she was inspired by Lauri Svedberg’s studio at 3359 Tyler St. NE (who will also be open for Art-A-Whirl. Rotondo will host some other artists, and live music on Friday night.

Frank Stone Gallery, at 1226 2nd St. NE, will feature new work by Frank Stone. A note from the gallery says, “Frank has spent most of the winter working on large commercial commissions, but in between he’s managed to create a new collection of work for the garden.This new work is fabricated with Frank’s signature materials: industrial found objects of brass and copper, aged with patinas in a palate ranging from rose to turquoise. Gears, springs, woven brass strips, unidentifiable whatnots, and glass jewels have been fashioned into benches, hanging wall planters, small patio tables, and a spectacular new fountain.”

Mo Donahue’s Party Crashers usually do their thing at other people’s venues; delivering a lawn full of pink flamingos or engaging in other antics. This year, she and her various cohorts have a schedule of performances at her home, 2657 Grand St. NE, including tribute artists (celebrity lookalikes). She and Ted King ask visitors to bring a found object to contribute to a sculpture project, Le Cadavre Exquis, or “Exquisite Corpse.”

Dave Fick normally does his woodworking at Sidewalk,1326 Quincy St. NE near Architectural Antiques and SignMinds. He said when he didn’t have other artists sharing the big sandbox-like space, people just peered in and then moved on. Adding balloons and kids’ chalk art activities made it work; the other artists share the direct expenses. He plans to have a 17-piece big band on Sunday, May 22, 1-3 p.m., and an offshoot of that group Friday, 7-10 p.m.

On the flip side, Nameless Wildness, for the last several years a popular multi-artist yard location, won’t be open. Sue Christensen emailed that she’s taking the time “off from hosting an event at Art-A-Whirl. Instead we will be riding the trolley and our bikes around NE and visiting friends who ARE hosting events. I had gotten into a habit of throwing too expensive a party to which hundreds of people were coming, but so few were buying that I wasn’t making any money; I just wanted to take a year off to do what I’ve always wanted to do (go out there and check out AAW and eat other peoples’ free food) and see whether I can get a wider perspective on the event and maybe even figure out how to make some money next year.”

Kyle Fokken, while his home studio is listed in the NEMAA directory, will have most of his art at Spot Art Gallery, 1828 Marshall St. NE, a location not in the directory. “It’s close to Psycho Suzi’s which I figure will be busy.” Fokken’s toy-inspired sculptures made mostly of repurposed metal and wood, are currently in several shows throughout the country and beyond.

Kristine O’Brien, Opostrophe, who makes things like lampshades from hand-dyed wax-resist silk batiks, appeared at the Waterbury building last year during Art-A-Whirl, but that space was no longer available. She’s at Casket Arts this year after enjoying her time exhibiting at Cache’ this past fall. Her studio is in Saint Paul.

NEMAA has issued “NEMAA Member Art-A-Whirl Participant 2011” stickers to members, and encourages visitors to “Buy from a NEMAA member. Your continued support of the artists and businesses in Northeast Minneapolis during Art-A-Whirl, and throughout the year, will help us to build our great NE Minneapolis community.” The directory’s dining guide lists 23 food and beverage-related businesses with 17 related ads.

Out of respect for NEMAA, in the above article I’ve only listed by name, NEMAA members. The directory will be available during Art-A-Whirl at two information booths, located near park and ride lots and free trolley stops. One booth is at 13th Avenue and Marshall Street NE, near the Grain Belt complex; the other is at Broadway and Monroe streets NE, near the Q.arma Bldg and Northrup King.