Nine days from now, if all goes according to plan, Dana Sikkila will complete the final leg of a 600-mile bicycle tour from Grand Marais to Mankato, Minn., where she runs a community art space. And, if all goes according to plan, she will be carrying a hundred-ish pounds of artwork from the pre-selected strangers she met along the route.
She will not be lugging a canoe, though. She lost that battle.
“That was my fantasy,” she said in a phone interview last week, before beginning her trek. “I got talked down. Going through Minneapolis with a boat on a (bike) trailer probably wouldn’t be very legal.”
This is Sikkila’s fifth and final year of Project Bike — a two-wheel tour through parts of Minnesota with stops at studios where she interviews artists and then takes a piece with her for a post-ride exhibition at her space, 410 Project. The first stop was scheduled for Tuesday with boatmaker Josh Tolkan; the final stop is with a ceramicist in St. Peter.
While cruising through the Duluth area, she planned to meet with painters Patricia Canelake and Adam Swanson and quilter Karen McTavish. Sikkila’s travels are chronicled both on Facebook and Instagram, and a documentary of the trip will premiere during the exhibition opening in October in Mankato.
A mixing of two passions
Sikkila took over at 410 Project, described as a community art space, in 2012. It’s a nonprofit organization with a DIY aesthetic run by volunteers. The June exhibition was “Evolution of an Artist: The Beginning: Art by Anika Rossow Strasser from ages 3-15.” In May, Maddie Fox’s “Creep Factor” showed a collection of conceptual portraiture by an artist self-described as loving "the unconventional beauty."
Sikkila said she was trying to think of a way to advocate for artists and for the space when she came up with Project Bike. It’s a mixing of two of her passions: cycling and art.
The Project Bike premiere was in 2015. Sikkila’s 14-day route, a solo venture, went from Mankato to Rochester to the Wisconsin border, the Twin Cities and home again. She handled all the navigation, interviews and recording with a Go-Pro.
Portrait of the journey: That's the year she got hit by a car in Hastings, but also met a couple who fixed her wheel well enough to get her to Minneapolis — and they fed her.
By the time Sikkila was done, she had collected 12 pieces of art — and she was over it.
“That was the scariest and hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” she said. “(I said) ‘I’m never doing that again.’”
But people like it
Project Bike, she discovered when she got home, had an audience. The post-tour exhibition of work drew 80 people. People she didn’t even know were following stopped by to celebrate the opening.
OK, she recalled thinking, maybe I’ll do it again.
But Sikkila made changes: She added a riding partner, Kyle Zeiszler, who is in charge of mapping, bike maintenance and, as an athletic trainer, body maintenance; and she hired a film crew to handle the documentary.
The tour moves quickly with little time for a bad wheel or a steep gravel road: She schedules a visit a day at studios around the state. Sometimes the crew camps — last year raccoons went through their food, clinked at their spokes and shook the Advil like it was a maraca, she said. Sometimes they’re invited into homes.
She pulls a trailer, where she stacks the art she collects. Last year's haul, which included stops in Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Brainerd, ended with 200 pounds of artwork in a 4-foot pile. Approximately 250 people turned out for the exhibition.
This year’s tour started in Grand Marais earlier this week, with stops scheduled for Knife River, Duluth, Cloquet, Sturgeon Lake, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Red Wing and St. Peter.
In some cases, the artists are scouted and hand-picked and sometimes the decision is based on submitted proposals. She’s attracted, she said, to work with a message.
Sikkila is working with a new-to-her film crew, led by Alex Kohnstamm of Kobamm Productions. His team of four will travel by car. He likes the project, he said, because it’s a chance to see Minnesota — his home state.
Also: “Biking is such a beautiful thing that I don’t think we appreciate that much,” he said. “And, obviously, supporting fellow artists and seeing what Minnesota has to offer.”
He will collect footage for the documentary that will be screened at the opening, then add footage from the opening so the feature-length film can be shown at festivals.
As an artist, Sikkila works in printmaking and installation. But this project, too, is art.
“Truly, what I think the project is, it’s the tour and the film,” she said. “It’s a weird mix of performance piece and advocacy rolled into a big ball.”
Facebook: Project Bike