Art overdose: A beginner's guide

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May 9, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
During the weekend of May 20–22, an estimated 50,000 people will flood into Northeast Minneapolis for Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio and gallery tour in the country. Dozens of studio buildings, shops, restaurants, galleries and homes will open their doors to the public, and all told more than 500 artists will put their work on display.

Art-A-Whirl is an exciting, energetic and unique experience, but it can also be overwhelming and confusing if you don’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) is here to help.

NEMAA was formed in 1997, two years after artists in the Thorpe Building organized the first Art-A-Whirl with the help of longtime City Council Member Walter Dziedzic. NEMAA’s stated goal is to promote and support the art and artists of Northeast and the Arts District, the area bordered by Broadway, Lowry and Central Avenues and the Mississippi River. NEMAA organizes several events throughout the year, including monthly open studio events and the Fall Fine Arts Show. But Art-A-Whirl remains the group’s primary focus.

If you’ve never been to Art-A-Whirl, it can be tough to know where to start. While the event is concentrated in the Arts District, Art-A-Whirl has grown so large that a few venues spill beyond the borders of Northeast into North Minneapolis, the Warehouse District and Southeast Minneapolis.

Every year, NEMAA produces a guidebook that’s available throughout Northeast and lists every artist by name, location and medium. It also lists parking, area restaurants and shuttle routes through the arts district. Much of the same information can be found at the website,

According to NEMAA’s Executive Director Alejandra Pelinka, one of the major thrills of Art-A-Whirl is the ability to meet the artists behind the work and develop a relationship with them. “It’s a great connection to artists,” she says. “You can meet an artist and follow their work through their shows and studio openings and see their artwork grow.”

For the artists themselves, Art-A-Whirl is a great way to reach a wide audience, connect with arts patrons and, of course, make some sales. Nearly every exhibitor at the event has something for sale, but don’t assume that every piece you see will be priced for serious collectors only. “There’s a diversity of styles, types and prices,” says Pelinka. “There’s something for everyone. It’s about finding artists that you enjoy.”

“Art-A-Whirl can be a really great experience for artists,” says Amy Rice, a local artist and printmaker who has been showing at Art-A-Whirl for more than 10 years. “It’s a great way to get exposure and to make money. It’s also a really good opportunity to get feedback on new work. I like to show some new work and watch the reaction to it so I can see if a new direction is a good one to go in.”

Whether you’re an Art-A-Whirl veteran or a first-timer, there’s something for everyone during the event. Make sure to check out our tips and event highlights to get the most out of your visit.

Advice from the experts

Don’t knock yourself out: It’s nearly impossible to see everything at Art-A-Whirl, so don’t make yourself crazy if you can’t see every artist you’d like.

Visit the big venues: Not sure where to start? Hit up venues like the Northrup King building, Grain Belt Studios or the Casket Arts building. You’ll see dozens of great artists in a single stop.

Try something new: If you’ve been to Art-A-Whirl before, Pelinka recommends visiting a new venue you’ve never visited. You may discover a new artist that you love.

Be nice: Remember that the artist is usually within earshot. “Every year, there’s a lot of talk online between artists about who heard the rudest thing,” says Amy Rice.

Get physical: Dragging along someone who’s not interested in art? Pelinka says physical art like sculpture or furniture tends to be more popular with those unfamiliar with fine art.


Event highlights

It’s probably impossible to see everything there is to see at Art-A-Whirl, so we’ve prepared a list of highlights that are sure to be a hit with the entire family.

Glass-Blowing demos at Foci: The Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, 2010 E. Hennepin Ave., will hold live glass blowing demonstrations all weekend, as well as special events like fire dancers, live music and a pig roast. Check for the schedule.

Czeslaw’s Loop: A three-day, four-act opera based on the works of electronic composer Czeslaw Janecki, this musical multimedia experience takes place on the river behind The Sample Room, 2124 Marshall St. NE, and features a who’s who of local musicians, including P.O.S., Ryan Olsen, Martin Dosh, Dylan Hicks and many more.

Henna Body Art demos: Learn about the art of Henna and get a temporary Henna tattoo all weekend at 2250 University Ave.

Franconia in the City@Casket events: The Franconia Sculpture Park comes to the city with an exhibit at the Casket Arts building, 681 17th Ave. NE. Special events on Friday and Saturday include music by the Semiconductor Orchestra and sculpture-making workshops.

NEMAA Silent Action: All weekend, NEMAA will host a silent auction with works by over 100 local arts. All proceeds benefit NEMAA. Stop by the Northrup King building, 1500 Jackson St. NE,
to check it out.

By the numbers

Expected attendance for Art-A-Whirl 2011


Approximate membership of NEMAA


Approximate number of painters exhibiting a Art-A-Whirl

Total Art-A-Whirl Destinations

Approximate square miles of the Northeast Arts District


Landmark studio buildings

Artist working in LEGO