Art-A-Whirl brings tens of thousands of people into the artist studios of Northeast Minneapolis each spring. Credit: Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Art-A-Whirl brings tens of thousands of people into the artist studios of Northeast Minneapolis each spring. Credit: Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Bottineau’s art organizer

Updated: April 5, 2016 - 4:10 pm

Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association leader talks Art-A-Whirl and the arts district.

At the core of the Northeast Minneapolis’ art scene is NEMAA, the Bottineau-based Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association.

Its leader, executive director Alejandra Pelinka, is tasked with guiding the roughly 900-member organization that serves as the glue that binds together the region’s artists, studio buildings and businesses. Chief among her duties is throwing Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio tour in the country, which brings hundreds of artists and some 50,000 fans to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District each May.

But NEMAA is evolving to be much more than Art-A-Whirl. Since Pelinka took the helm more than five years ago as the organization’s first year-round staff member, it has presented art events throughout the year, adding the biennial Wintertide exhibition last year.

With more and more interest in Northeast’s artists, NEMAA is also growing, Pelinka told The Journal, and not just within the district. A-Mill Artist Lofts in Southeast Minneapolis has already brought dozens of members to the collective of artists, business owners and nonprofits. Even guest artists outside the area are joining so they too can share their art or find a studio for themselves.

We caught up with Pelinka to talk about Art-A-Whirl and the dynamic arts community.

Q: How are changes in the arts community affecting membership?

Alejandra Pelinka: Every year our membership goes up. We’re seeing a lot more guest artists or artists who don’t have a studio join. I think they just want to really want to be a part of this community and of what we’re building here. We’re trying to find ways that we can support them. I hear all the time that Northeast feels like a small town. Northeast has that kind of feel of being very tight-knit, people being very loyal, being very connected, so the social capital here is really strong. Also, a majority of our members are between 40-65. We’re also thinking, if artists eventually retire, how can we support the next generation of artists to sustain the community here — from student memberships or partnering mentors with mentees.

Q: Let’s get to Art-A-Whirl, which is fast approaching. What’s new this year?

The app is the biggest thing this year. We received a grant through the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and built a partnership with a local firm, VON91. The number one thing that we’re seeing, as the event gets larger and there’s more participants, is that it feels overwhelming for some people to navigate the event. Our number one question is “Where do I go?” The app will be a good accompaniment to this printed [Artist Directory & Guide]. You have a map in [the directory] and you have a listing of artists by location. You’ll be able to see family-friendly events, where the nearest restaurants are, the trolley route and the stops. We’ll also have an events listing where different art events and demonstrations are happening by day. I’ll get that whole FOMO (fear of missing out) thing happening all weekend — “Oh, I heard about this, but not until too late.” So hopefully that events listing will help you understand what’s happening by day.

Q: What else should we expect at Art-A-Whirl?

So if you purchase a piece of artwork from a NEMAA artist, they’ll give you a little “I Bought Art” sticker and local businesses are offering discounts if you wear that sticker. That’s part of the reciprocal relationship we want to evolve between artists at the event, which are the core, and businesses that are participating and benefiting from it. It’s about buying local. It says this is an important resource that we have here in Northeast, this is a vital, vibrant important artist community, and the way we can support it is not just by visiting, but by investing in it. What could be a better outcome than to buy something for your home, office or for someone else than here during art-A-Whirl? That’s the best way you’re going to keep the artists here.

Q: Can readers still get involved in the festivities?

It’s not too late, and the more you plan ahead, the better. We need close to 200 volunteers. On our website we have a Google form you can fill out. A majority of the shifts are helping support the info booths, which is really fun. I know I’m biased, but every volunteer that’s attended and helped us out has had fun. We’ve had people volunteer for years and years. If I was not working the entire event, working as a trolley guide would be one of my favorite volunteer shifts. You basically ride the trolley, welcome people on and announce upcoming stops. Some people have a lot of knowledge of Northeast buildings and history so sometimes they’ll give you a little history.




Where: Northeast Minneapolis Arts District

When: May 20 from 5-10 p.m., May 21 from 12-8 p.m., May 22 from 12-5 p.m.

Cost: Free


The free Art-A-Whirl app will be available a couple weeks before the event at


The original post has been clarified to reflect that an Art-A-Whirl map and artist listings will be available in the Artist Directory & Guide, not NEMAA’s app.