The Evolution of ARTCRANK

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By Erin Kindell, Minnesota GreenCorps Member (TLC), and Jennifer Harmening Thiede, Communications and Member Engagement Manager

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Photo credit: Jonathan Chapman

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With its irresistible fusion of bicycling, local art, craft beer, and raising money for a good cause, it’s no surprise that ARTCRANK was born and raised here in the Twin Cities. Now in its ninth year, ARTCRANK’s June 6 event at Fulton Brewing in Northeast Minneapolis is expected to attract a crowd of thousands. Recently, we connected with founder and creative director, Charles Youel, to get more insight into ARTCRANK’s past, present, and future—plus a sneak peek at some of the original bike-inspired prints featured in the 2015 show.

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TLC: You launched ARTCRANK® back in 2007. How did this intersection of bicycling and art come about? What inspired you?

CY: My love for bikes started early—I was four when I first learned to ride a bicycle, and about a week later I was building jumps in front of my house. As for art, the ability to draw, design, and illustrate is something that I’ve always appreciated and coveted. As a copywriter and creative director in advertising and graphic design, I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from a lot of brilliant visual thinkers.

I started ARTCRANK in 2007, at a time when most of the creative work I was doing focused on digital interactive projects. I wanted to do something that combined my love of design and bicycles, and to do it in a way that celebrated handmade artwork and live events where people actually had to show up to be part of an experience—not just press a button.

TLC: This year marks ARTCRANK’s ninth show in Minneapolis. How would you describe the response from the local Twin Cities community?

CY: The response from the Twin Cities, and from Minneapolis in particular, has been overwhelming. I’ve always said that ARTCRANK could have started anywhere, but it did start here. Creativity across the spectrum from art and design to music and theater seems to thrive here at a level that transcends the size of the population. When we held our first show, I expected maybe 50 people to show up. We got more than 500 in one night, and it’s basically taken off from there. We’re expecting about 5,000 for our 2015 show opening on June 6, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we did better than that.

TLC: How have you seen the events themselves, or the bicycling and art communities ARTCRANK brings together, evolve since ARTCRANK began?

CY: At our first shows in Minneapolis, the crowd was definitely dominated by people who were more active in the bike scene. Most of the artists in the show work for local advertising and design firms, so we’ve always had a strong fan base in that segment of the creative community as well.

I’d definitely say that we caught lightning in a bottle, in that both screen-printed posters and bicycles have grown meteorically in popularity, becoming staples of pop culture and everyday life for people in Minneapolis and across the U.S. Today, our audience isn’t just bigger—it’s broader. I think that’s a testament to the diversity of work we feature in our shows. No matter what bicycles and cycling mean to you, you’re bound to find a poster that you can see yourself in.

TLC: ARTCRANK’s special mix of bicycling, art, and beer seems quintessentially Minnesotan, but in the past eight years you’ve expanded across the U.S. and even into the U.K. Tell us more about that growth. And how do the events here compare to other ARTCRANK events around the country?

CY: After seeing the response ARTCRANK generated in Minneapolis, I though that the basic idea would translate successfully anywhere that people love bikes and art. Admittedly, I never dreamed that I’d get the chance to put that theory to the test in cities like San Francisco, New York, London, and Paris. We’ve done more than 60 shows since 2007, featuring more than 2,000 different posters. But the best thing about this experience is that almost nothing has turned out the way I expected, and it’s better than I could’ve ever imagined.

Our show in Minneapolis is always the biggest event of the year. But Minneapolis also has a multi-year head start on every other city we’ve been to, and it certainly helps that we’re based here. Our shows in New York, London, and Austin (Texas) have grown at roughly the same pace that Minneapolis did.

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ARTCRANK MSP 2015 will feature original bike-inspired prints by 50 local artists, including these, from L to R: Drew Preiner, Brian Geihl, Phil Jones, Lonny Unitus, Allan Peters. (Click to enlarge; see more below!)

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TLC: What can we expect to find at the June 6 opening event at Fulton Brewery in Minneapolis and the extended show at Hamilton Ink Spot in Saint Paul? What are you personally most excited about?

CY: As the Minneapolis show has grown, we’ve tried to create more of a festival atmosphere, an environment where you come for the art, but stay for the party. At the opening, we’ll have free valet bike parking by Nice Ride MN for everyone who rides to the show, so nobody has to worry about finding a place to lock their bike. We’ll also have three food trucks—Gastrotruck, Mid-Nord Empanadas, and Café Racer—as well as Cranky’s Ice Cream and Peace Coffee. And of course, plenty of beer by Fulton.

Moving the show across the river to Hamilton Ink Spot in Lowertown gives anyone who can’t make the June 6 opening a chance to see and buy posters from the show. This is truly a Twin Cites show, in that our artists come from all over the metro area, so it’s cool to be able to bring the show to the capital city. I should say that all posters are done as limited editions, and there are generally about 50 copies of each poster available.

What am I most excited about? Honestly, nothing tops getting to see the posters that our artists create for the show. That never gets old. Having seen the work for this year’s show, the Twin Cities creative community is still the undisputed heavyweight champ.

TLC: As ARTCRANK’s Creative Director, what more can you tell us about the process of curating awesome original works of art for each event and about the talented artists participating in the 2015 show?

CY: For all of our shows, we start with an open call for artists. There’s no fee to enter, and we ask prospective artists to share samples of their previous work, not proposed designs. We make our selections based on those work samples, and choose a roster of 25 or more artists, depending on the size of the host venue. This year’s MSP show features 50 local artists, which I think is the most we’ve ever had.

The majority of the artists in our shows are working graphic designers, art directors, and illustrators. Most have never shown their personal work in a gallery. ARTCRANK is an opportunity for them to try or rediscover handmade printing and explore a subject they’re passionate about with very few boundaries. Each year, we try to strike an even balance between returning artists who’ve participated in past shows, and new artists. So even if you’ve been to every show we’ve ever held, there’s always something new to discover.

TLC: How do you include a “Cause Partner” for each event? What do you want people to know about the Cause Partners benefiting from ARTCRANK in Minneapolis this year?

CY: We’ve been able to grow and sustain ARTCRANK with the help of the creative and cycling communities in the cities that host our shows. The Cause Partner program has been a way for us to give back to these communities in appreciation.

We typically choose organizations that use cycling or art as a way to create positive change, but we’ve also worked with organizations like LIVESTRONG that connect cycling and fitness to cancer research and support for cancer victims and their families. That’s something I’m very proud of personally, and for us as a small arts organization.

This year in Minneapolis, we’re doing something a little different. Aaron Purmort, a graphic designer who did posters for our shows from 2009 – 2014, lost his life to brain cancer last December. Through ARTCRANK, I’d become friends with Aaron and his wife, and as we started to plan this year’s event, it was important to me to do something in Aaron’s memory. So Fulton is donating a share of the proceeds from all beer sales in Aaron’s name to the Musella Foundation, an organization that’s doing groundbreaking research in brain cancer.

TLC: As you look beyond June 6 and beyond 2015, what’s next for ARTCRANK?

CY: Since 2012, we’ve averaged 14 shows per year. The travel is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Our entire operation is run by four people, and that schedule left with us with little time for anything else, including riding our bikes.

So we made a decision to cut back significantly on shows in 2015 to focus on two other projects: A new website featuring an online poster shop, and the first in what we hope will be a series of retrospective books featuring some of those 2,000-plus posters from past shows. The new site is scheduled to launch in late July, and we’re hoping to have the book done in time for the holidays this year.

It’s a huge change for us in terms of business model, which is thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. But I started the show with the idea of making art as accessible as bikes are. So I’m excited to create new ways to introduce independent artists to our audience, and share some of the work that we’ve been honored to represent at home and abroad over the past eight years. It’s been a helluva ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where this road takes us.

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A few more of the handmade prints you can pick up at ARTCRANK’s Minneapolis show on June 6. Artists from L to R: Sam Soulek, Ellen Schofield, Jaime Anderson, Ashley Schoenecker, Todd Zerger, Trenton Edwards, Wattle & Daub. (Click to enlarge.)

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Check it out:

ARTCRANK MSP Opening Night Party: Saturday, June 6, 4-10 PM, Fulton Brewery (Northeast), 540 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

Plus: Extended show at Hamilton Ink Spot in Lowertown, Saint Paul, from Friday, June 12 through Saturday, June 27.

 

All images courtesy of ARTCRANK. Special thanks to Charles Youel and Patrick Murphy for coordinating with us!

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