[Featured Image: Photo by Kyle Zeiszler – Dana Sikkila during Project Bike in Minneapolis]
If you live in Mankato, chances are you’ve caught sight of Dana Sikkila pedaling down the road. Sikkila, who is the director of the volunteer-run 410 Project art gallery, bikes pretty much everywhere. She even found a way to incorporate her love of biking with her love of art during her summer art tour, Project Bike.
Every year, Sikkila has mapped out routes across Minnesota to collect works of art from artists all over the state. She does it all on bike, hauling a trailer full of art behind her to create an exhibit at her gallery when she returns to Mankato. In the last five years, she has covered more than 2,500 miles and formed connections with dozens of artists across the state.
But even though Sikkila isn’t biking across Minnesota with a trailer full of art behind her, Project Bike is far from over.
“It was kind of a project that was really based around my two passions: art making and biking,” Sikkila explained. “A lot of times, [as an art director] you look at artwork on your computer and then it’s mailed into the gallery, and then people look at it and it’s mailed back. There’s no real connection between the gallery and the artist, let alone the gallery and the where they’re making their work. This was really diving into the very first steps of the artwork being made. The point of the project was to really highlight artists, especially artists living in the area, and showcase them being artists.”
But all good things must come to an end, and Project Bike is no exception. Last year, Sikkila announced her 2019 tour would be her last. But even though Sikkila isn’t biking across Minnesota with a trailer full of art behind her, Project Bike is far from over.
How it began
According to Sikkila, organizing a statewide art tour via bike was an idea that brewed in her head for several years before she was brave enough to put it into action. However, thanks to a grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, she was finally able to organize a trip in August 2015. For two weeks, Sikkila biked across southern Minnesota, covering 475 miles and visiting 10 artists. After interviewing them to learn about their work, she collected a piece or two from each, which she hauled home in the trailer attached to her bicycle. The work was then displayed in a month-long exhibit at the 410 Project.
“[The first] year was a total learn-as-you-go process,” Sikkila said.
After some heartfelt reflection, Sikkila decided to keep the tour alive, continuing to plan new routes across the state. Over the years, she has found artists from all backgrounds, ethnicity and ages, with the youngest participant only six years old. They live everywhere from Faribault to Eagle Lake to Redwing. The art itself was also diverse, ranging from stained glass to sculptures to more traditional paintings.
“When I’m selecting artwork for this space, it’s all judged on the artwork,” Sikkila explained. “But with this project, it’s different: we’re judging the artwork but also the person, because it’s really important to me to bring in people of diversity.”
Sikkila’s latest trip, which took place over 11 days in July 2019, started in Grand Marais and worked all the way back down to Mankato—more than 600 miles. It featured 10 artists, including a boat maker, a quilt maker, a costume designer and more.
A Tough Decision
Sikkila said she usually started planning for Project Bike sometime in the winter, which is when she started considering finishing the tour for good last year. By the end of 2019, she had already successfully completed five tours, but they came with sacrifices, too. Sikkila wasn’t able to exhibit her own artwork for much of the year as she planned the tour, and she has turned down job and residence offers because she needed to be in Mankato to oversee the project. Now, she started thinking about what would be best for her to keep growing as an artist as she continued serving the Mankato community.
“I sat down and asked, ‘What is the purpose of doing it again? And how can the project expand from here?’” she recalled. “So, then we made the decision that it really needed to close out.”
To truly commemorate the last trip, Sikkila hired a professional film crew, Kaboom Productions, to follow along during the entire tour. Other years, she has worked with film makers to create a short video of the trip, but this last tour will have a true full-length documentary.
“It was by far the most intense one we’ve done so far, because of the elaborateness of the filming process and managing people,” she said. “It was a great experience, but Kyle [my riding partner] and I were still biking the same amount each day, filming and biking each night until midnight. We’d sleep a few hours and get back up and bike again.”
While a shorter version of the documentary aired last October during Project Bike’s exhibition at the 410 Project, the full version will premier in May.
The project really started from nothing, and now it’s going to be in one of the largest viewing spaces in the state. It’s a really great conclusion honoring the project and all of its efforts.
As for Sikkila, she said she isn’t quite sure what comes next for her. She will have an exhibition of her own art in Minneapolis this summer, and she’s also interested in pursuing her PhD.
“At first, I really identified myself as, ‘I’m Dana from Project Bike,’” she recalled. “Now I’m like, ‘Now what?’ But I think during the tour, I was solidifying in my mind that my brain was ready to be challenged in a different way. Everything’s really up in the air right now, but I think I’m okay with that. Something will come up, that’s for sure. It’s just taking all the energy that I put into Project Bike and seeing how can that transfer to something else. My brain’s always thinking of new things.”
A New Road
The tour may be over, but Sikkila said she wants Project Bike to keep going forward.
One major milestone will happen in July, when the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport will open a display case retrospective of Project Bike. The retrospective will span five display cases in Terminal 1 and run for six months. It will include pieces of art that Sikkila collected from rural Minnesotan artists, televisions running documentaries about the tour, pictures, maps and even Sikkila’s bike and trailer.
An opening reception for the exhibit is planned at the airport on July 24th from 6-8 pm.
According to Sikkila, the airport approached her last year about putting up the display, and she has been working as the project’s curator. Originally, the airport offered her a small display case and asked for some pictures, but Sikkila insisted on showcasing not just herself but the artists who had worked with her throughout the years.
“They’re like, ‘Who are you? Can we trust you?’” she recalled. “It took about a year, and I really pushed hard with them, and I was like, ‘I can do this, you’ve got to trust me.’ So, they ended up agreeing to giving me the biggest display cases that they had.”
One of the most difficult parts of the project, Sikkila said, has been choosing which artists to feature in the display. She only had space for 12 artists but has worked with so many over the years that it was a challenge to narrow them down.
“That was excessively hard, because we gained really close relationships with all these artists,” she said. “It was really showcasing artists that I feel like their artwork is speaking just a little bit bigger than just the object itself—people who have really engaging stories that I feel other people could relate to.”
The exhibit itself opens June 26, and, while it was hard to stop touring, Sikkila said she’s excited to see the next phase of Project Bike.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, but I feel like it was something that, if it didn’t come to an end, these opportunities wouldn’t have been,” she said. “Instead of touring, it’s just doing something else with it, which is really exciting. The project really started from nothing, and now it’s going to be in one of the largest viewing spaces in the state. It’s a really great conclusion honoring the project and all of its efforts.”
A quick sketch of Dana Sikkila
Sikkila grew up in Litchfield and came to Mankato for college. A self-described “problem child” in high school, she said she never wanted to attend college but was convinced by her mother to try at least one semester. She chose to study scene making at MSU-Mankato, and she quickly fell in love with her new environment.
Ultimately, Sikkila switched majors to study printmaking and sculpture, earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. She returned to MSU-Mankato some time later to earn a Master’s of Art in printmaking, as well as a nonprofit leadership certificate.
It was during this time that Sikkila got involved with the 410 Project, even showing her first exhibit there when she was 21. And while she continued to make art, she also grew interested in helping manage a place where other artists could thrive.
“Making work is really impactful, but giving people a way to make their work and show their work is also impactful,” she said. “I [saw how] the 410 Project could be really beneficial to the community, more than just people showing their work.”
Besides volunteering as the 410 Project’s director since 2012, Sikkila also teaches as an adjunct faculty in the MSU Department of Art.
The 410 Project
The 410 Project is a volunteer-managed art gallery and experimental space in Mankato. Unlike many other galleries that are funded by the state or local universities, 410 Project’s upkeep is paid for through community donations.
“People kind of see us as the underdog [because] we’re just a group of people down here, [who] know this is important and want to contribute to our community,” Sikkila said. “We’re a space for artists run by artists.”
Besides offering a space where artists can present their work, the 410 Project also hosts classes, workshops and lectures. These events—and their consistently low prices of $5-10—are made possible by grants that Sikkila writes.
“We never want money to be a barrier for anyone to come in here and participate in anything,” she explained. “[The Project] runs completely out of a labor of love.”
The 410 Project is located at 523 South Front Street in Mankato. To contact them, email firstname.lastname@example.org.