With defenders, art survives its own popularity

Art can provide an escape from the daily stress but it’s got its own kvetching and politics to mire itself in.

Art-A-Whirl, the tremendous northeast Minneapolis art festival, is at the heart of the discussion about whether art has to be oh so serious, and, sometimes, artsy. It’s growing, becoming hugely popular and, like everything else, changing, to the consternation of some who want it to always be what it always was.

In an interview on Twin Cities Daily Planet, Tricia Khutoretsky, the director of the Public Functionary gallery in Minneapolis, criticized the negativity surrounding the art crawl.

“There’s such a negative attitude around Art-A-Whirl,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be so serious.”

It’s more than an art crawl now, and that’s the problem for some. It’s not “high art” enough, as Sheila Regan put it in her latest TCDP review.

Art-A-Whirl reminds me a bit of the Fringe Festival- where you have an event that is hugely accessible to people who aren’t necessarily the normal art-opening crowd. There are people who might never go to see art for the entire year except Art-A-Whirl, just like there are people whose only theater experiences throughout the entire year are going to the fringe.
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To me, that’s a good thing, because you are drawing people into experiences out of their normal routine, and some of those people might be enticed to come back at other art events throughout the year. It’s an opportunity to make connections with people maybe who haven’t been buyers in the past but could be in the future.

She says the negativity may involve the fact it’s a money-maker. “I know a number of artists who count on the festival for their overall income for the year,” she writes. “That’s not a bad thing. In this non-profit-heavy town, I think it’s great that ladies are driving in from the suburbs to buy from local artists. We have plenty of inscrutable art shows throughout the year that don’t make any sense to the non-art people. Every once in a while it’s good for the ecosystem to open the doors and say everyone is invited.”

But is there room for everybody in art enclaves? Everybody? Can art-a-whirl be art and a party?

Not according to some of the kvetching on social media. The Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association defended the evolution, while insisting the relationship between the bar parties and the artists is symbiotic, while occasionally troublesome.

The NEMAA board of directors acknowledges that the Art-A-Whirl landscape has changed. More and more businesses are taking advantage of the 30,000 visitors to NE Minneapolis for the weekend, and there has been a huge growth in craft breweries, taprooms, other small food and beverage businesses, retail spaces, and other businesses. Many of these NE businesses are supporters of NEMAA and show their support for the artist community. Over 75 are Business Members of NEMAA, advertise in the Artist Directory and/or provide cash or in-kind donations for the organization.

During NEMAA’s marketing of Art-A-Whirl and during interviews with the media, the organization makes sure to emphasize that AAW is an Open Artist Studio Tour (not a street festival, or a craft show). When local businesses capitalize on Art-A-Whirl by infringing on the trademarked name and using it and distorting it without permission, NEMAA as an organization as well as AAW artists and small business participants all find that offensive. Over the course of the next year, the NEMAA Board will make sure to enforce Art-A-Whirl’s trademark in order to maintain the integrity of the name and event to the best of their ability.

In a letter in the Star Tribune today, Mia Bremer of Minneapolis says the complaining just ends up hurting the artists.

I buy art at every Art-A-Whirl. I save money throughout the year for just that purpose. Sometimes, I see an artist I like and go back the following year. When I read the negative comments from artists, it makes me think my presence and my money are unwelcome. Since time does not reverse itself, rather than being upset with the changing mood of the event, artists and local businesses need to work together to figure out how to benefit all. Artists in Northeast, please talk to your fellows about keeping the message positive to keep me, and my friends, excited about this art crawl. Your negativity helps no one.

  • Huh, I guess I’ve been insulated from all the negative talk about AAW.

    The only thing I have to say about those casting the AAW in a negative light is:
    “Get over yourselves.”