Photo courtesy Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association

Give it a Whirl

Updated: May 2, 2017 - 3:13 pm

The open studio tour returns to Northeast Minneapolis for its 22nd year

It’s the first year Dameun Strange has found himself in the middle of a whirlwind.

Strange is the relatively new executive director of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, the brewers of the annual Art-A-Whirl, the country’s largest open studio tour. Just like its home in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, the annual studio show, now in its 22nd year, continues to adapt to both NEMAA’s artist-members and the tens of thousands of art lovers that visit each year.

From a new event to tips for navigating, Strange has turned whirling into a fine art.

A new NEMAA canvas

The biggest addition to this year’s Art-A-Whirl is NEMAA’s Art N|Motion, a new event that turns the studio tour on its head. The three-day show, which replaces the organization’s traditional silent auction, invites about 25 rotating artists to temporarily turn the third-floor gallery in the Northrup King Building into a studio.

“Quite often we ask our members to turn their studios into gallery spaces during Art-A-Whirl, and this is sort of the reverse of that. We’re turning gallery space into studio spaces for the artists coming in,” Strange said.

The goal for the event is to pull in artists who normally wouldn’t be able to participate in Art-A-Whirl because they don’t have studios or have work to sell. Strange said it will also fill in the gaps in the types of work that NEMAA members represent, chiefly music and performance art.

“It’s a show of good faith to those artists who are not members that NEMAA is a place for you. It’s reaching out to a whole new set of artists that we hope become members and that we can support in a more robust way in the future,” he said.

The family-friendly event will see several artists make work in front of guests’ eyes, which Strange said will give artists the opportunity to break down the barrier between them and their audience and share their techniques. If a whirler sees a sculptor or a painter begin a piece on Friday when the Art N|Motion kicks off, they may be able to buy it and bring it home by Sunday.

“Art-A-Whirl is really about getting people connected to the artists and learning about the artists and learning about the creative process,” he said.

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

How to Whirl

It may be Strange’s first Art-A-Whirl as executive director, but he’s a veteran whirler.

Not only is Strange an artist himself, but he performed at the festival before leading the organization. He’s got several bits of advice for navigating the large, open world of Art-A-Whirl.

First things first, Strange said to download NEMAA’s app.

If whirlers have relied on NEMAA’s print directory to find studios or events, the directory puts all that information onto their phone. The app launched last year, and NEMAA has been tinkering with it to make it a year-round tool for art lovers to find details on the organization’s events and plan trips to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

“The biggest thing this year is trying to encourage people that may be familiar, either people who have come for many years or may be looking for something new, to use the app. Overall, the app is such a valuable tool now that people can use,” he said.

Next, Strange suggests finding something new.

For seasoned Art-A-Whirl aficionados, there are plenty of spots to find outside main studio buildings like the California Building or the Casket Arts Building, including several stand-alone installations in people’s homes or garages. Strange said the app can be a good place to start in planning a trip to roads less traveled.

“There are gems that are hidden. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them,” he said.

To get one of NEMAA’s “I Bought Art” stickers, Strange recommends that whirlers buy art.

“Find a piece that you love and buy it,” he said

The sticker will get guests discounts during the three-day weekend at NEMAA’s partners, from taprooms and restaurants to local shops.

Despite the buzz around brewery events, Strange said he wants families to bring their kids.

“I have a feeling that over the past three years since the bar crowd and band scene has grown so much that people are thinking that this isn’t for families, but we really want people to come out with their families, their kids,” he said.

The experience of meeting artists and appreciating their work can offer an important life lesson, he said.

“We really want to establish that culture that values art and values paying for art. It’s a great way to instill that value in young people so it not just continues, but grows,” he said.

Finally, Strange says don’t drive.

Not only does NEMAA have three trolleys that will get people to several big stops within Art-A-Whirl, but Metro Transit offers free daily bus passes. Whirlers may also choose to bike or take advantage of Nice Ride stations throughout the festival.

“If there are less people driving, it’s easier to get around,” he said.



If You Go

What: The 22nd Annual Art-A-Whirl

Where: Northeast Minneapolis Arts District

When: Friday, May 19 from 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Saturday, May 20 from noon–8 p.m. and Sunday, May 21 from noon–5 p.m.


Joe _ Jen Photography AAW_15-111
Submitted photo

Art-A-Whirl 2017 Events

Building a Block City

Grace Lutheran Church will provide all the cardboard and art supplies, but it’s up to guests to create a giant cardboard city from the ground up during this family-friendly event.

Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 1500 6th St. NE

When: Sunday, May 21 from noon–5 p.m.

Cost: Free



Mudcloth & Adinkra Tile Demo

Tile maker Leann Johnson will offer guests a chance to check out her process and understand the meanings of the symbols she uses on her tiles. Visitors will also be able to assemble and design their own small tiles.

Where: FK Art Glass, 2201 Bryant Ave. N.

When: May 19–21

Cost: Free



Giraffe Gallery Open House

Despite all the hidden gems of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, few Art-A-Whirl events boast full-size giraffe sculptures. The PinBox 3000 will also be on hand at the gallery’s open house to help visitors make their very own cardboard pinball machine.

Where: Giraffe Gallery, 2223 5th St. NE

When: May 20–21

Cost: Free



Come Get Lost in Creative Space

One of the newest buildings to join Art-A-Whirl, A-Mill Artist Lofts is opening its live-work spaces and hosting displays from more than 70 artist-residents and their guests throughout the building. Students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design will have a special exhibition in the gallery.

Where: A-Mill Artist Lofts, 315 Main St. SE

When: May 19–21

Cost: Free


Other events during Art-A-Whirl

Art-A-Whirl with Anchor Fish & Chips

The popular restaurant on 13th Avenue is bringing in “Drinking with Ian” personality Ian Rans to host a weekend-long celebration featuring artwork from artist Kim Whittemore, a beer tent, the food truck and a two-day lineup of bands like The Brass Messengers and Romantica.

Where: Anchor Fish & Chips, 302 13th Ave. NE

When: May 19–21

Cost: Free

Info: the


612Brew at Art-A-Whirl

Northeast’s 612Brew is opening its patio for two days of art from NEMAA members like Cory Favre and Melinda Wolff, as well as a tattoo pop-up from Jackalope Tattoo and performances from The 4onthefloor, among other performers. Cash is recommended at this all-ages event.

Where: 612Brew, 945 Broadway St. NE

When: May 19–20

Cost: Free



Art-A-Whirl with Wanderlust Vintage Market

This Sheridan-neighborhood shop will showcase several art vendors and live music from bands each day of Art-A-Whirl on top of offering its own vintage wares.

Where: Wanderlust Vintage Market, 349 13th Ave. NE

When: May 19–21

Cost: Free




Able Seedhouse + Brewery, a recent addition to the taprooms of Northeast with just one Art-A-Whirl under its belt, is hosting a skate party with more than 25 skate artists that will benefit City of Skate.

Where: Able Seedhouse + Brewery, 1121 Quincy St. NE

When: May 19–21

Cost: Free