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Sun January 29, 2012
Around the Nation

Minnesota Festival On Ice Melts Art's Boundaries

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:04 am

Call it the Burning Man of the Midwest: a temporary city built around artistic expression. Only this one takes place in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the middle of winter.

Minnesota is known for its 10,000 lakes. When the lakes freeze for the winter, the state is known for its ice fishing and its ice shanties — little homemade fishing shacks full of heaters, radios and bottles of schnapps.

On Medicine Lake, 20 shanties are part of a festival called Art Shanty Projects. They're filled with art and dance parties. The festival closes next weekend, and organizers expect about 10,000 visitors before it's done.

Although it's a bitter 15 degrees, hundreds of people are out, bundled in winter coats, long underwear and the occasional neon jumpsuit.

"This whole project kind of expands people's ideas of what art can be," says Peter Haakon Thompson, who co-founded Art Shanty in 2004. "I think a lot of people are intimidated by museums and galleries, and think that they're going to do something wrong when they're there. And there's definitely not that feeling out here."

All sorts of people are skidding around the frozen lake. Sixteen-year-old Lu Xiao Ge is with a group of 54 Chinese exchange students, who are almost speechless at the sight.

"It's [a] surprise. It's not normal," she says. "I like it very much."

There are some great installations out on the ice. A giant robot waves its arms, and a daily newspaper is printed by hand on an old letterpress.

Then a weirdly silent mob of people starts dancing. They all sport fuzzy pink headphones from the Audio Adventure Shanty, which give them the beat. One dancer lifts his headphones to share the music and offers up another pair.

Artist Nathaniel Freeman says this sort of interplay — a kind of conversation between audience and artist — has really become the focus.

"I think before it was kind of about creating fantastic things to come witness, and now it really seems to be about creating fantastic things to come interact with," he says.

Also, Freeman says, people come out because it's Minnesota.

"Winter's so legit here. People really do fish out of ice shanties," he says. "So that feels like there's a good entry point."

However, most shanties wouldn't have a local folk music trio playing up in the loft.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some call it utopia, some call it chaos, but every summer the Burning Man Festival brings tens of thousands of thrill-seeking pilgrims to the Nevada desert. They create a temporary city built around artistic expression. But say you live in the Midwest and you want to bring a little Burning Man to the 'burbs of, say, Minneapolis in the middle of winter. Well, it can be done, my friends. And Deena Prichep from Plymouth, Minnesota will tell us how.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Minnesota is known for its 10,000 lakes. And when they freeze for the winter its known for its ice fishing, and its ice shanties. They're little homemade fishing shacks full of heaters, radios, bottles of schnapps. But here on Medicine Lake, 20 shanties are part of a festival called Art Shanty. They're filled with art and dance parties.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE DANCING)

PRICHEP: Even though it's a bitter 15 degrees, hundreds of people are out, bundled in winter coats and long underwear - and the occasional neon jumpsuit. Peter Haakon Thompson co-founded Art Shanty in 2004.

PETER HAAKON THOMPSON: This whole project kind of expands people's ideas of what art can be. I think a lot of people are intimidated by museums and galleries and think that they're going to do something wrong when they're there. And there's definitely not that feeling out here.

PRICHEP: All sorts of people are skidding around the frozen lake. Sixteen-year-old Lu Xiao Ge is with a group of 54 Chinese exchange students, who are almost speechless at the sight.

LU XIAO GE: It's surprise. It's not normal. I like it very much.

PRICHEP: There are some great installations out on the ice. A giant robot waves its arms, and a daily newspaper is printed by hand on an old letterpress. And then a weirdly silent mob of people start dancing. They all sport fuzzy pink headphones from the Audio Adventure Shanty, which give them the beat. One guy lifts his headphones for a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can you hear it?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do you want a pair?

PRICHEP: Artist Nathaniel Freeman says this sort of interplay - a kind of conversation between audience and artist - has really become the focus.

NATHANIEL FREEMAN: I think before it was kind of about creating fantastic things to come witness, and now it really seems to be about creating fantastic things to come interact with.

PRICHEP: And also, Freeman says, people come out because it's Minnesota.

FREEMAN: Winter's so legit here, you know. People really do fish out of ice shanties. So, that feels more like there's a good entry point.

PRICHEP: Although, most shanties wouldn't have a local folk music trio playing up in the loft.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SINGING)

PRICHEP: Art Shanty closes next weekend. Organizers expect about 10,000 visitors to Medicine Lake before it's done. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Plymouth, Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.