Virtual Art-A-Whirl Recap

by Leslie Palmer-Ross and Margo Ashmore

Under the restrictions of the COVID-19 directives, we were not able to gather in person for the largest studio crawl in the country, but Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association’s feverish effort to build virtual aspects of Art-A-Whirl paid off, and the event site artawhirl.org will remain open for business all summer long.

Bicycle Theory and Curbside Marketing, LLC, teamed up with NEMAA and hundreds of artists to post studio tours and demonstrations, as well as create online stores. There are artist interviews and musical performances. The site even boasts links to order food from Northeast restaurants.

“We had 21,000 visitors from 5 pm Friday, May 15th until midnight Sunday, May 17th. We’ve had an additional 6,000 users since then, and 351,920 page views,” NEMAA Executive Director Anna Becker reported early last week.

The format was new for everyone and, as with any Art-A-Whirl, artists had varied experiences. Some artists had a limited online presence and did not see much activity. The weekend seemed to be successful for many participants. One reportedly sold all her inventory.

Tyler Whitehead, who creates public art and has a studio in the Holland Arts Building shared, “As a newcomer to the Art-A-Whirl scene, it was great to have some traffic driven to my website. I wasn’t sure how things would work this year but I think NEMAA made the best of a difficult situation. I hoped the added traffic would lead to future work and it already has.”

Annie Hejny in the Casket Arts Building summed up her experience: “Virtual Art-A-Whirl was more successful than I anticipated. When I first heard that the live event would be transferred to a digital platform, I had frustrations and fears about accessibility for the community … But I leaned into the possibility of a virtual event and created an online shop.

“It was a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work to make, organize and market my shop. All of my sales were from buyers who already knew about my work so I am not sure if I gained new exposure to the community like I usually do from a live Art-A-Whirl. Instagram and my website were the most important tools for me.

“There was a different kind of exhaustion at the end of the weekend. It was the kind of tired one feels from spending too much time in front of a screen versus the usually post-Art-A-Whirl tired from having talked with hundreds of individuals. Overall, I am grateful for the experience and am excited to continue selling through my shop for the foreseeable future.”