It's Art-A-Whirl this weekend, where people walk around northeast Minneapolis galleries and look thoughtfully at things and say, "Hmmm." Occasionally someone will pause at a drinking fountain: Maybe it's art. Maybe it's intended to highlight our expectations of constant fresh water in a world where such things can be precious commodities. You look for a little card on the wall, and there it is: Bubbler / 1987 /Mixed media with plumbing.
So it's art, then.
Where does the name come from? A play off the beloved State Fair ride, the Tilt-a-Whirl?
Nope: The name comes from a sign that used to be in the Thorp building: Whirl-Air. Someone spotted it during a brainstorming session 15 years ago, and it stuck. Does Whirl-Air still exist? Yep. It's in Big Lake. From its website: "Since 1946, Whirl-Air has been an industry innovator in the design, development and fabrication of pneumatic conveying systems."
OK, then. I called them to see what kind of art they had in the lobby, but no one answered. I'm guessing "pheasants."
Anyway, the Whirl is a great event, and hoorah for art. The only sad part is a couple of the more than 50 venues: an old casket factory and the Northrup King building. It's a reminder how the city lost many old-style manufacturers that provided good jobs. Granted, local casket production probably would have lost out to Amazon, which sells the Giovanni Traditional Austrian Casket (one left -- order soon!) in case you need to bury an Austrian, traditionally.
But Northrup King was hard to lose. I worked there one summer -- an ancient, haunted complex that was still bustling, sending seeds to the four corners of the nation, battling Burpee. When Northrup King decamped for the burbs, it took the energy out of the neighborhood. Conversion to artists' studios is preferable to demolition, but you wonder if someday the artists will move to the suburbs for cheaper rent, and industries will flow back in and bring jobs.
If it does, some maudlin hack columnist will lament it. "It was a vibrant arts scene, but cities change -- and now companies are making widgets and grommets where once artisans blew glass."
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