February 1, 2024

Dear Friends,

We just had an INCREDIBLE opening weekend at the shanties, greeting over 10,000 visitors over two days and engaging with community through joyful and thought-provoking, weird and wonderful art.

We initially made a decision to postpone our program opening date and wait for ice with incoming subzero temperatures, and it was the right decision, given the information we had available at the moment. A warm spell returned and we continued to track the weather and lake conditions.

While the ice still measures 12” in the village as of yesterday afternoon, the forecast is not in our favor moving forward and we have made the decision to get the shanties off the lake and close early. With low temps mostly above freezing and highs upwards of 50 it’s simply no longer reasonable to think it will be safe to welcome crowds onto the ice. It is not possible at this time to move into the park and continue our program (aka Plan Beach), as the ground is not frozen, there is no snow, and we would trample and damage the landscape (and make a muddy mess of the shanties). The safety of artists, visitors and staff, along with preserving the environment and the art, are top priorities for us.

Staff members had unified clarity in making this decision – there are no other viable or reasonable options – however we know it brings disappointment for everyone. It also leaves us in a precarious financial position, as we rely on donations from visitors to fund our program. People have already shown up with generosity, offering $33,000 in contributions towards our $99,000 goal for individual donations. While this would have been a great start to a full run of the program, it now leaves a significant gap we need to close in order to end this year successfully and begin planning for next time. We usually see upwards of $70,000 from community members donating at the gate, with the remainder through our membership program and online giving.

If you love the shanties and the creative community we foster, please make a donation today. This is a make-or-break situation — our future depends on it. An organization our size does not have the cushion or means to recover from this without community support.

We have assembled a State of the Shantyverse below, which gives a fuller picture of the past few years for Art Shanty Projects, where we’re at now, and what we need to continue. Please read, consider, and give generously to celebrate the work artists and staff put into our 20th anniversary season, and ensure we have another 20 more.

ADVANCE GRATITUDE for your consideration in giving and BIG THANKS to those of you who have already supported us this season!

With much love,
on behalf of staff and board,

Erin Lavelle signature

Erin Lavelle (she/her/hers)
Artistic Director

P.S. While we won’t see you on the ice anymore this year, we invite you to hang out with us NEXT WEDNESDAY night, 2/7, at Modus Locus (3500 Bloomington Ave, MPLS) from 7-10pm. View the 20 year shanty retrospective, buy some swag, and connect with the shanty community.


The past 3+ years since the onset of the pandemic have been difficult for everyone, Art Shanty Projects included. On top of a changing arts funding landscape, last years’ freak weather event and our pivot to Plan Beach set us behind financially, and we operated off of reserves in the bank. This current El Niño winter plus climate change means we are left in a precarious financial position.

We have witnessed many of our arts and public programming peers pause, cancel, and sunset in the past few years. We are sharing this ‘state of the shantyverse’ with our community (and publicly) in an effort to raise awareness about the challenges facing organizations like ours, be transparent about our current circumstances, and share our determination and strategies to continue for another 20+ years. We are an artist-driven, community-centered organization, and your participation in our success is critical! YOU MAKE ART HAPPEN! Please read, consider, and give generously if you are compelled and able.

The original shanty. a boxy red shanty on a snowy lake with a shovel resting next to the open door.
a red shanty with a deck on top

Art Shanty Timeline (we’re a YOUNG nonprofit!)

2004-2013: Medicine Lake
The first art shanty was built! Then a few shanties, then more! We coexisted with ice fishing culture. There was a learning curve with permits and on-ice diplomacy. Both Springboard for the Arts and the  Soap Factory served as fiscal sponsors so we could apply for grant funding. We hired staff! Artists got stipends. We mostly had thick ice.

2014-17:  White Bear Lake

We became a non-profit, formed a board of directors, and had our first ever welcome shanty for information & merch sales to the public. We increased artist stipends, curated performances in addition to shanties, hired additional staff, and survived two emergency evacuation Plan Beaches in a row.

2018-now: Bdé Umáŋ / Lake Harriet

We moved to Minneapolis! Tripled our visitors! Doubled our artist stipends! Took a year off! Regrouped, flattened our organizational structure, hired a new team. Created accessibility plans, community agreements, artist outreach initiatives. Rewrote our mission, vision, guiding principles. Adapted to a global pandemic, had four years of good ice, weathered climate chaos with another Plan Beach, prepared to celebrate our 20th Anniversary, were struck by a Climate Chaos x El Niño mashup winter ! Whee!

3 people in winter-wear stand in front of a red wooden gate with yellow flags on a frozen lake
Bundled up artists and audiences joyfully dance to the tunes of Brass Messengers during a pre-pandemic day at the colorful shanty village on frozen Bde Unma in Minneapolis, February 2020.

Our move to Minneapolis

Moving to the city in 2018 created a shanty boom-town – and with our audience size tripling, our staffing needs and infrastructure expenses naturally grew. We also increased artist stipends at this time and started offering daily accessibility services and other amenities to better serve the public. In 2019 we accepted a generous anonymous gift to help us strategically plan and build capacity for a sustainable future. At this time we created our entrance gate and a more robust on-ice fundraising plan, started our membership program, and got real with our expenses and what it takes to host 30,000 people on a frozen lake and properly support artists! On the very first day of our 2020 program we raised more money than our entire 2018 program (~$5000), taking in over $70,000 during  the month-long run! We were on the right track.

A person walks towards the camera surrounded by fluorescent panels and mirrors.

Weathering the Pandemic & a changing funding landscape

We had quickly made big strides for a young nonprofit, and then the pandemic hit a month after our 2020 program completed. During the next 3+ years funding resources for arts organizations dwindled – we saw local arts grants cancel or pause indefinitely (to the tune of $50-75K annually of our org’s former expectations) and the grants that still exist – and that we do often get – are for less money than before, with more competition. Corporate sponsorships are almost absent. The good news is that community support from individuals and small businesses remained strong, both buoying our spirits and supporting us financially. 

A glitter disco dressed person looks through a crystal scope and gestures towards shore. Words in the shadows read: "Presenting Art Shanty Projects: Plan Beach!" next to a logo.
3 board members smiling and posing while collecting donations in winter gear carrying a bucket, and a floatation ring saying "no skinny dipping".

Financial Impact of Plan Beach 2023

Last years’ program in January-February 2023 we shifted  into Plan Beach just days before installation was to begin due to a wild weather event that left all winter activities in limbo with unstable ice that had melted due to the giant, insulating blanket of snow. Staff worked swiftly with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to shift logistics, artists were notified of the changes, we re-mapped everything (and did a LOT of shoveling),  opening on time to enthusiastic visitors in beachwear! While there was disappointment to not be on the ice, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from artists and visitors about the way the plan seamlessly happened, and the charming experience of meandering through the park to discover clusters of shanties. The financial downside was that working with and around existing park infrastructure and paths in a sprawling footprint, we could no longer have a single entrance gate to collect donations, and contributions from visitors declined. Not for lack of support, but the impossible logistics that left the board and volunteers unable to greet every person.

We ended the fiscal year with a deficit of 35,500 but were able to continue on and pay our bills with the reserves still held from that 2019 anonymous donation. The reality is that those reserves won’t last forever, and this hit – paired with the dwindling grant resources available – means our staff and board members are exploring new strategies for remaining fiscally solvent in the future.

El Niño + Climate Chaos in 2024

While we were able to adapt beautifully to last years’ climate chaos, this year proved to be trickier. We are not alone – nearly every other winter event has been canceled or cut short with this remarkably warm winter.

a person in a snowsuit drills into fresh shiny ice. Text reads 'it's 16 days till shanty season! (or maybe 23)
a person sticks their hand down an auger hole to check the ice

We experienced the latest ice-in dates on record, and postponed our opening as we waited for the ice to be safe to host us. We had an incredible opening weekend (with 13” of clear, good ice!), but the forecast shifted and record breaking highs came in by Wednesday after opening. The ice quickly began to deteriorate and it was obvious that we could no longer safely welcome crowds. We decided to strike and close our program early.

a person stacks art rocks while people are in the distance on the frozen lake
people select rounds of tree trunks at a shanty


We think it’s important to be transparent about the cost of presenting a public art program that values artists and hosts tens of thousands of visitors! Our income and expenses both reflect that we are truly a people-powered organization. 

2024 Expense Projection: $190,000

We value celebrating the skills and unique talents of individuals, and aspire to compensate people fairly for their labor. As such, our largest budget expense is paying people! 79% of our money each year is spent on artists, performers, directors, producers, ASL interpreters and audio describers, medics, and photographers.

Additional program costs include infrastructure essentials like permits, insurance, sanitation, supplies, ramps, plowing, and equipment rental; and limited fundraising and operations expenses.

People: 79%
Program management: 9%
Marketing & fundraising: 6%
Operations/admin/professional services: 6%

artists wearing snowsuits in front of their shanty

2024 Income Projection: $170,000

We are delighted to fill the needs of our community by providing art and connection in an isolating season – and the community has demonstrated their commitment and investment with their financial support. Individuals have been our steadfast supporters – the whopping majority of our income (74%) comes from individual donors and local businesses! Grants and earned income (food vendor fees, merchandise sales) make up the remainder.

Individuals: 69% (memberships, on-ice donations)
Local businesses (cash): 5%
Grants: 15%
Earned income: 10%

We also receive in-kind goods and services from local businesses, estimated at $18,000 in value, which includes hot food and beverages, supplies, and a warming structure for the comfort and safety of artists/staff/volunteers for the month-long duration of the program.

Approved 2024 Budget gap: $20,000

We produce a BIG program with lean expenses and few opportunities to trim. With a commitment to continuing our celebrated and meaningful programming during the pandemic – which has been a time of unpredictable and dwindling resources for everyone  – we have been operating with a deficit budget since FY2020, covering the difference with cash reserves.

We have continued our strategic planning to close that budget gap and achieve a sustainable, balanced budget this year and in years to come. This includes increasing board initiatives for fundraising, expanding our grant prospects and thinking creatively with new approaches to funders, expanding community partnerships for post-program earned income, and rallying additional community support.

We are fortunate to still have a reserve of cash in the bank which can temporarily cover our costs – but it won’t float us forever. We are working hard to close this budget gap early in the season (additional grant prospecting, partnerships, increased board fundraising, etc.), but it has grown larger due to our program being only one weekend.

Support the work we do and the community we build 

This year we celebrated our 20th anniversary season with a stellar lineup of projects and events. Regardless of how short our season was, we built artist community and welcomed an estimated 10,000 visitors to our program over two days before warm temps crept in and caused us to close early.

We fearlessly do what we do to uplift art and joyful connection for our community of artists, neighbors, fans, and new friends in the coldest, most isolating season. In return, a whopping 80% of Art Shanty Projects’ income & in-kind donations come from our community. We couldn’t do it without this incredible show of kindness and reciprocity.

Please make an investment in Art Shanty Projects – a stretch gift if you can this year – to celebrate our 20th anniversary season and ensure a vibrant future!

A group of adults dance in the trampled snow, in a circular formation, facing the center. Some wear butterfly wings on their bundled up bodies.

Public Art + Life + Health

One of our Art Shanty guiding principles is to move in the world with the values of connection and interconnectedness.  We strive to strengthen our interdependence within our communities. As a public art organization we increasingly recognize our value in public life – and that we fill a critical public health need for our community to creatively connect during winter, which can be an isolating season for many. 

We’ve been following the research of the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and psychologist Dachar Keltner (director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab) on the science of awe and the public health epidemic of loneliness. Murthy maintains that we’re experiencing a public health epidemic of loneliness, and that awe-inspiring activities – connecting with people, in nature, through shared activities (like those created at Art Shanty Projects!) –  are the simplest, most effective way to alleviate this.   Social connection is a powerful tool. Keltner states that awe does the same thing in your brain that psychedelics and meditation do – it frees our minds to connect in a bigger way, deactivating the default mode network (which has us focused on OURSELVES), promoting care for other people. Experiencing awe is good for both our personal and community health! 

We embody collective effervescence!

Murthy references this incredible term ‘collective effervescence’ coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim – and describes it as the deep tendency of humans to move together, which brings a sense of unity, awe, bliss. It is human to move our bodies in unison – whether through communal dance, the simple act of gathering, or mundane activities like waiting together to get on a bus. Opportunities for collective effervescence are around every corner at Art Shanty Projects! Artists invite visitors to race kicksleds, participate in pollinator dances, sing and sway, weave together, stand in line while waiting to get inside a shanty…

Bringing people together is our jam, and science is telling us it’s immensely good for us! While we’re an arts nonprofit, our mission is really about connecting people: “Art Shanty Projects intentionally creates an impermanent art village on Minnesota lake ice amid changing climate and environment. With a spirit of embracing challenges through creativity, we support an ecosystem that inspires everyone to create and participate in art, thrive in winter, and build community.”

Curious about the science of awe? We recommend these podcasts: The Thrilling New Science of Awe and To Be a Healer

A crowd of people circle around a yellow banner.
A group of bundled up kiddos look in awe at a giant polar bear puppet

Photos on this page courtesy Ryan Stopera and ASP staff members