If you live in the northern hemisphere, chances are the weather’s not as pleasant as it was six months ago. In the upper Midwest of the United States, winter is pretty brutal right about now. How brutal? As I type it is -2 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of -16 (that’s -19C and -27C, respectively). Yes, it could be worse, and may be in the near future. But when this is daily reality for a significant portion of the US, millions of people are left with only two options: hibernate for the winter, or get on with gettin’ on.

I like to think that this is the mentality that spawned ice fishing, a sport which first lodged itself in my brain at the impressionable age of 18. About a week before leaving my Oregon home to attend college in Minnesota, my family happened to tune into Michael Feldman’s “Whad’ya Know” on public radio. One of the questions asked what ratio of Minnesotans go ice fishing. The answer: “One in five, which is only 700,000 fishermen.” I thought he was kidding, but no. Each year 700,000 Minnesotans trudge out into the cold and go sit on frozen lake in a little shack and stare at a hole in the ice…for hours. But there is more than just fishermen on those lakes, and more is getting wrangled than just fish and beer. I give you: THE ART SHANTY PROJECT!


I recently visited the Art Shanty Projects on Medicine Lake. Located just a short drive west of the Twin Cities, the shanties are now entering their seventh year of playfully skewering the state’s notorious pastime. Establishing a temporary installation every year from late January to early February, the rotating cadre of artists make the most of their circumstances to unite friends and families in outdoor whimsy during winter’s doldrums.

Despite a set of installments that changes each year, past favorites like The Snapshot Shanty are regular features, as are the daily BIcicle Races [sic] held at noon each day on, yes, an ice track encircling the shanties. Between perusing installations such as the doodle shack (Make and hang your own paper snowflake! Write on the walls! Challenge your friend to a portrait joust outside!), sweating it out in the sauna shanty, and twisting till your legs are jelly in the dance shanty, the options are endless.

In yet another grand eff-you to the weather, an outdoor barbecue can often be found providing sustenance to visitors in the form of traditional summer fare.

The 2010 exhibit will be open to the public each weekend, January 16th through February 7th. Admission and parking are free, but donations to the are gladly accepted. A complete list of this year’s shanties and scheduled events can be found at the Art Shanty Project’s website. Already love the shanties as much as I do? Become a fan on Facebook!

Notes for visitors: While we here at the Atlas are in no position to condone or prohibit public intoxication, we’d like to make our life lessons public fodder so others may learn from our mistakes. For instance, I would like to personally recommend restricting one’s bloody mary intake at brunch beforehand to that perfect level where one is bolstered against the wind thanks to a warm belly… but not too primed that participating in creations such as the robot shanty, which rocked visitors back and forth like a carnival ride, becomes a test of one’s iron stomach. You never know what you’ll encounter in the Art Shanties!

Also, keep in mind that you’ll be walking across an icy (read: slippery), exposed lake. Shod and dress appropriately… but don’t forget your bathing suit for the sauna, should it be around again this year!