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The Art Shanty Projects bring the arts outdoors at Lake Harriet

Rock Box at Art Shanty Projects on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis
Rock Box at Art Shanty Projects on Lake Harriet in MinneapolisFree Truth Media

by Lianna Matt McLernon

January 16, 2023

In 2016, Erin Lavelle wasn't the Art Shanty Projects artistic director yet, but she did join the ranks of artists who have transformed the ice fishing hut into an engaging art experience on Minnesota's frozen lakes year after year. Her shanty was a two-story behemoth called the Slumber Party shanty, and visitors were able to climb up to a gigantic mattress where they could while away the time warming up and playing slumber party games with friends and strangers alike.

The Art Shanty Projects evolved since then: a move to Lake Harriet (also known as Bde Unma), a shift to include more performances, increased accessibility, and expanded operations to support an annual visitor count of up to 30,000 people. What hasn't changed is its focus on community. If you want to see for yourself, just pick any weekend from Jan. 21 through Feb. 12 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"We just want it to be a playful, joyful place for people to go in the depths of winter when they don't want to leave their house," Lavelle says, adding that the cold can cause unintended isolation. "I'm the biggest winter cheerleader on the planet, and I want it to be a reason that people go outside."

This vision was still present even when the Shanties went exterior-only in 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a change that remains this year. "There were so many wild adaptations we couldn't even imagine, and audiences wanted to be there. They wanted to go out," Lavelle says. "Maybe they spent a little less time because they didn't have the opportunity to warm up, but a lot of people returned [again during the festival]."

Another recently announced adjustment for 2023 is “Plan Beach!” due to snowfall and warming temperatures making the surface of Lake Harriet too thin to support crowds and structures. According to a press release, “shanties and performances [will be] nestled along meandering paths through the Bandshell park, along the lakeshore, and in the snowy picnic grounds.”

A group of people gather at art shanties on a frozen lake
An aerial view of the Art Shanty Projects on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.
Max Haynes

Almost 40 artists/artist groups have answered this year's call for projects, with returning favorites such as Twin Cities Native Lacrosse and its invitation to play thakápsičapi; outdoor yoga and ice skating sessions with Bridges through Yoga and American Ice Theatre, respectively; and the larger-than-life, ambling Lady Bear polar bear puppet. The first annual Klezmer on Ice festival and the Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival overlap with the Art Shanty Projects. And music lovers will also be treated to an eclectic mix of performances and installations. (Note: some programming may be subject to change due to Art Shanty Projects moving its activity to Lake Harriet’s beach area.)

Below are five projects, but you can see the full line-up at the Art Shanty Projects website.


Jei Herald-Zamora and Nick Knutson lead this shanty-turned-boom-box-turned-performance stage. As Lavelle describes, where the cassette drawer would be is actually a drawbridge that hosts live bands and DJs. While the posted schedule lists Hula Hoop Hoopla, Klezmer on Ice, and Art of Expression (a trio of artist acts), Lavelle notes that the line-up also includes the Indigenous rock band the Pretendians, improv band Ice Climber, and Gothess, a creation by Mari Navarro that promotes diversity in the local Goth scene.



An Opera Theatre is back at the Art Shanty Projects on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5 at both 2 and 3 p.m. Expect operatic fanfare and, if the accompanying band is composed of the same instruments as last year, the sounds of an accordion and a pipe keyboard (very shanty-esque, if we do say so ourselves).



This project isn't a traditional music act, but as you stand under Nanotako's 11-foot tall tree of twisted metal, you will also be able to hear musical tones coming from tongue drums that visitors can play. Why not start 2023 with a little reflection?



Put on by TaikoArts Midwest, this Japanese drumming performance can only be experienced on Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. Taiko was in the news in 2022 with the Minnesota premiere of the documentary Finding Her Beat, which featured TaikoArts Midwest's executive director Jennifer Weir, but regardless of whether you saw the documentary, you won't want to miss this act. Lavelle says, "Last year, their performance stopped the village. I mean when you heard those drums on a frozen lake... Everybody just stopped — 'What is that?' — and gathered around."



No matter when you go to Lake Harriet, you'll be able to both listen and make music with this shanty from Jacob and Tom Bukkila, Thomas Grammond, and Nicole Soley. Their DJ booth will be pumping out music, but visitors can affect the sound by playing with the amount of light hitting the shanty's exterior, which is connected to a modular synthesizer. "It's all electronic music, and I anticipate it becoming a dance party around the shanty, as well as a collaborative effort," Lavelle says.

People gather by a wood structure on a frozen lake
Tick Tock Shanty at Art Shanty Projects on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis
Free Truth Media
People gather in front of a colorful structure on a frozen lake
HearSeeHall shanty at Art Shanty Projects on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis
Erin Lavelle
A winter scene on a frozen lake with people sitting around a fire
The Current's 89 Days of Winter brings together highlights of the season for music, entertainment, and more.
Alexis Politz for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.