The NEMAA blog is a platform for us to share our members work and their stories, and a hub for information about the NEMAA community.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

NE Resident's Guide to Art-A-Whirl - Family Friendly Edition

by guest contributor Jamie Schumacher

I wrote a little guide for some of my friends tackling Art-A-Whirl for the first time. I sent it to on to NEMAA for their amusement (tour guide in training!) and we thought it would be fun to post this to the blog as well in case it’s helpful for anybody else!

A little background; Art-A-Whirl was my first real entrance to the Northeast Arts Scene, via Altered Esthetics gallery. Art-A-Whirl is organized by NEMAA, a local nonprofit organization serving Northeast Artists. Full disclaimer: I've been volunteering on and off with NEMAA for about 10 years and I heart them. They are an amazing organization and have grown this event tremendously in the past few years. Their current director Ale is just fantastic and she's been helping grow the capacity of the organization as well as the quality of their programs and events. Between her and an amazing board, it's a great time to do Art-A-Whirl, as it's run like a well-oiled machine at this point. :) 

I used to have to work every Art-A-Whirl at the gallery and/or as a volunteer with NEMAA. I got a little burned out at one point, so for a year or two we had plans out of the district (it gets pretty crowded in our hood.) But for the past few years I’ve renewed my love for the event - it's been so awesome to just be able to go around Art-A-Whirl and enjoy it as a participant and not as a worker bee. It reminds me of how much I love this community and where we live. :)

Sooo - Art-A-Whirl is an open studio tour of over 50 locations, hundreds of studios. (Throughout the locations, there are over 600 artists participating.) That's what makes it unique - unlike outdoor art fairs you're going from studio to studio instead of booth to booth, and building hopping throughout a pretty big district. So it can easily be overwhelming for a first timer just by the scale of it. In addition to whatever your personal preferences are, here are some of the spots I think would be the most fun and exciting to do with kids. Art-A-Whirl is a huge draw, bringing upwards of 30-40K people into the district, some estimates are higher. And now many local restaurants and taprooms also offer large scale music performances during the weekend, so there is something for everyone.

How to Arrive
- While there are options for free buses into Northeast, (Thanks Met Transit!) the inevitability is that most folks will be driving in. But you’ll be happier if you plan on ditching your car at some point and getting where you need to go by bike, foot, or trolley.

Things to Bring
- stroller (one of the lightweight ones, this is easier to fold up for the trolley and creates less of a jam)
- snacks (though there are restaurants and food trucks everywhere, snacks are good to have for the kiddos. Nothing sticky.)
- water bottle (easy enough to fill up at any of the major stops, buildings, or TAP water locations)
- cash / card (Most take Square but some vendors don't. There are also a few ATM’s in studio buildings)

You'll be happier the lighter you pack. An ideal situation is if you can leave items at a base location and then trek around Northeast.

Where Things Are
Here's a map that shows various artist locations, studio buildings, and the trolley route. The trolley stops right at, or within a short walk, of most major buildings. Most artist locations are within the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, but there are locations throughout all of Northeast as well.

Okay – the studio buildings. There's a good list of the major studio buildings here:

You will pass most of them on the trolley so you can always do a long loop and then embark where you want to go. 

A Few Must-Sees, in my Opinion
Thorpe Building - this building has a super interesting layout and is fun to wander around. Here you’ll be able to see the BRICKMANIA (lego) shop - they do a ton of fun stuff for kids. Random Trivia: Their owner Dan Siskind was the founder of Profane Existence record labels and is awesome.

Q'arma Building - this is where AlteredEsthetics home base used to be, my personal entry to Northeast. There will be pottery demonstrations, live music, and a variety of fun stuff to do. This is where Frostbeard Candles is located (Frostbeard has wonderful nerdy book-themed candles for book lovers. Like, butterbeer scented candles, etc. Go during Art-A-Whirl and come back during Christmas to get uniquely awesome gifts for the book lovers in your family.)

13th Avenue – loads of shops, gifts, things to do. A good place for food times. Anchor Fish and Chips has a giant festival behind their space with live music and other sorts of fun. 

Going to those three alone could take up a whole Saturday. Another good rule of thumb is to pick up an Artist Directory beforehand and plan out any places you want to go. There is an Art-A-Whirl map in there and some zoom-ins, as well as great studio building descriptions (including history of the buildings!)

There are breweries and beer stops throughout Northeast, and there will be food trucks everywhere - in addition to a ton of restaurants in the district, food and drink should never be a worry. 

Here is a list of family friendly studios (in the Art-A-Whirl FAQ section of NEMAA's website), and family friendly events


The sheer amount of artwork throughout Northeast can be overwhelming, but less so if you tackle Art-A-Whirl the right way.  It’s is a great way to experience so much of what the neighborhood has to offer! Stop by on any or all days of the weekend, and hang on to the Artist Directory and come back again throughout the year. Even after more than a decade of living and working Northeast, I’m still discovering new things all the time and finding new artwork to love. 

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