It was bitterly cold outside when we spoke with the artistic director of the Art Shanty Projects Erin Lavelle, but that didn’t seem to bother her. “I got really excited when the windchill was 10 below when I woke up this morning,” Lavelle said. 

For those of us ready to brave the Minnesota winter on ice, the Art Shanty Projects is returning to Lake Harriet after a 1-year hiatus. The 2022 festival will run for four weekends starting Jan. 15 and ending Feb. 6. 

“We needed to find a way to do it this year,” Lavelle said. “We needed to...make it happen.”

The Art Shanty Projects is a roaming festival produced on frozen Minnesota lakes. Previous festivals were held at Medicine Lake and White Bear Lake.

The art shanties are an adaptation of ice fishing culture but, Lavelle explains, “we work to subvert it in all the ways that we can.” 

An Art Shanty Projects survey showed that 50 percent of attendees were there for the first time and a “significant fraction” of those had never been on a frozen lake before. To ease the nerves of newcomers, the ice levels are checked daily by the festival workers. 

For people intimidated by spending time outside in the cold, there will be a free store shanty filled with winter gear. Attendees are welcome to take winter gear for their festival visit and hang onto it for future outdoor adventures. 

This year’s shanties will be full of creativity, education and exploration but people will not be allowed inside enclosed structures. Artists have taken on the challenge of creating shanties that can be engaged with from the outside by performing on the inside with plexiglass for people to observe through. Other artists are building structures that do not have a roof or are partially walled to allow air to freely flow. 

“Artists are innovators and if you throw a challenge at them, they will adapt in fantastical ways,” Lavelle, a self-described social dramaturge, said. 

Artists involved in previous years’ shanties met for a “design charrette” (think artist retreat meets workshop) to figure out how to run the festival during a pandemic and a changing climate. During the charrett, artists were given a series of obstacles and challenges to address such as designing a shanty that can be moved by “people power” in case the lake melts.

“They came back in a couple of weekends...with amazing adaptations,” Lavelle said. 

Beyond the pandemic and climate-friendly structures, movement activities will pop up during the festival. Bridge for Yoga is hosting “fro-gahhh,” a BIPOC-instructed yoga class on the ice. An art bike parade will start off each weekend’s festivities. The Pollinators of Minnesota, a fest-favorite, are returning for a flash mob dance. 

A group of people dressed in butterfly costumes dance on a frozen lake
The Pollinators of Minnesota

Living within a pandemic, a city-wide racial justice reckoning and unpredictable weather patterns has brought mental health into focus with the Art Shanties Project. Lavelle connected the creating and visiting of the shanties with a much needed mental health boost.  

“We're all about finding ways to be joyful together in community.”

The Art Shanty Projects are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday from Jan. 15-Feb. 6. The performances and art actions schedule can be found here