Art Shanty Project, Art Shanty Town

How can art enliven our town hall experience? Art Shanty Town offers a refreshing take on community life and public space.

If you happen to see a larger than life polar bear lumbering along an ice road on a frozen lake in Minnesota, don’t be alarmed. It’s only art! Over the past several years, Minnesota artists set up shop for four weekends in the middle of Medicine and now White Bear Lakes for a celebration of sorts. Part sculpture park, part artist residency and part social experiment, they invite people to huddle together, ignore the cold and shake off their cabin fever.

The Art Shanty Projects, as it is called, involves 20 ‘shanties’ created by artists, sculptors and designers who build each one around a theme. The shanties play off the curious phenomenon of ice fishing villages that pop up across wintry Minnesota, subverting the traditional ice house culture of drinking buddy isolation.In the words of the organizers, the temporary community provides a unique opportunity for artists and audience to interact in engaging ways, in a non-gallery like environment. It offers otherwise ‘shy’ Midwesterners a chance to mingle and meet, laugh and debate, and have fun differently amidst an ‘inhospitable’ landscape. Guests are greeted with numerous experiences.

The Dance Shanty invites you into a geodesic dome to dance yourself warm with a thumping bass and a chorus of cheers from strangers. The Ice Ice Maybe shanty takes you through a personalized shopping experience in a high-end boutique specializing in the commodification of timelessness…everything is made of ice! The Meta Shanty offers healing classes in a gorgeous structure filled with salt bricks and a meditative solace. The bears, too, are roaming shanties. Underneath the framed structure made of recycled materials is a pedal-powered vehicle, where visitors can engage in conversation about climate change… or more likely the weather… while pedaling the bear to the frozen shore.

At its core, Art Shanty Projects explores the ways in which relatively unregulated public spaces can be used as new artistic environments to expand notions of what art can be. This year’s Town Hall Shanty specifically asks how art can influence our notion of civic governance. The organizers invite visitors to become fellow citizens of Art Shanty Town, where they can participate in creating a code of law and designing a flag and seal.

A unique exercise in public discourse appropriately plays itself out on the Town Hall Shanty’s Village Green. Ironically, as visitors inaugurated the site on opening weekend, a blustery wind swept through and knocked down an entire wall. As everyone pitched in to set it right, one visitor proclaimed in irony, the government has been overturned!Whatever happens to Art Shanty Town’s political future, one thing is certain. It is a refreshing (or bitterly freezing) take on community life and public space.