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Art-A-Whirl launches its online experience

The largest open studio tour in the country has gone virtual this year due to COVID-19.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Typically, northeast Minneapolis would be packed this weekend with people moving in and out of local artists' studios. 

COVID-19 changed those plans. 

"I'm in the camp that you deal with the situation that you have at present and make the best of it," said Anna Becker, executive director of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA). 

Becker said they realized that a lot of their members would be losing sales from many cancelled spring and summer shows. So NEMAA wanted to build an online experience that could help local artists beyond this weekend. 

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For Art-A-Whirl's 25th year, more than 800 local artists are featured online. There's an interactive map on the website, as well as an experience section with more than 100 videos of art demos, studio tours and musical performances. 

"I updated my website and I plan on trying to do some Instagram lives just from my studio, kind of answering questions and stuff," Fashion Designer Samantha Rei said. 

Rei is used to meeting her clients in person. She said it's tough doing online sales when she's known for her custom fit designs. 

"It's really tough. It's so much easier to have somebody come into my space and try on a garment and see if it fits," Rei said. 

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But artists are having to do more online sales which is why NEMAA also built an online shop section

"It doesn't make sense to only have it available for a weekend or three months. It should be there forever. So we pretty much just built out a shop for every member that wants it," Becker said. "I've been comparing to the Northeast version of Etsy. It has over 800 shops. You can search by medium; you can search by name." 

Kimberlee Joy Roth, a ceramic installation artist, has not photographed all her inventory at this point. 

"I think as people get more comfortable with the website and taking photographs of their work and uploading that you'll get a larger and larger inventory built as the year goes on," Joy Roth said. "So I think that's what NEMAA is really hoping for. It'll make things a lot easier moving forward for everybody who's never really had an online presence before." 

The site will be up year-round as a way to support local artists. 

Joy Roth said she hopes that once people are able to safely visit studios again, that they use the Art-A-Whirl site as a resource to plan out a visit. 

"The Northrup King Building is very overwhelming. It's such a large building but if people can preview who they want to see and make a plan, then they can just go to a few studios every month for First Thursdays," Joy Roth said. 

The interactive map also shows places in northeast Minneapolis where people can order food and drinks for curbside pickup. 

You can check out Art-A-Whirl, here

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