[Featured Photo by Kyle Zeiszler – Project Bike 2018 – Never camped in a sculpture park before. Mark that off the bucket list!]
A concussion and other injuries from a bicycle accident in January of 2018 left some wondering if Dana Sikkila had the stuff to pull off Project Bike for a fourth year in a row.
Sikkila, Director of the 410 Project community art space in Mankato, and originator and leader of Project Bike is motivated by deeper things. “My two passions,” she explained, “are working hands on with art and artists, giving people chances to exhibit, show, and have conversations about their work. That’s what the 410 is about. I am also huge into cycling.”
It would take more than injury and the doubt of others to keep her from doing what she loves.
“We have averaged about 500 hundred miles each year for the tour,” Sikkila said. “The way I advocate for something is with action, so I was like, let’s bike more miles in areas we haven’t biked before. This year we ended up doing 960 miles in 18 days.”
When you add in Minnesota heat and humidity, gravel roads, pulling a trailer that at the end of the tour weighed in at over 155 lbs, and dislocated ribs, it’s safe to say that all doubts about Sikkila’s abilities have been laid to rest.
What is Project Bike Anyway?
In 2013 Sikkila, after having led the 410 Project for a couple of years, began to ponder how she could be a more effective advocate for emerging artists. Thinking about her love for art and cycling, she said, “These are the two things I felt I was decent at. So, why don’t we do a project that puts them together? Wouldn’t it be awesome to bike around the state and meet artists and see the who, what, why, and where they make their work?”
It takes time for dreams to become reality but in 2015, Project Bike was born as a way to draw attention to the importance of art in the lives of Minnesotans while highlighting the work of emerging artists.
The plan was for Sikkila to begin a long bike tour across Minnesota, visiting artists and collecting samples of their work for a later show. To Sikkila, an important part of the equation was that she would move the artwork back to the 410 Project in Mankato under her own power in a trailer she pulled behind her bike.
A Long Journey
Sikkila recalled, “I had never toured before. I had done long, long days of riding but after that you go home.”
Of course, that wasn’t the only obstacle. “The first year I went out for about 14 days and met ten artists,” she said. “I had to beg artists to be a part of it because there was no credibility. I was just this girl biking around the state.
“I did everything myself. I filmed everything myself. I wrote everything myself. I collected 12 pieces of artwork. It was the first really intense physical and emotional thing that I’d been through. I had never experienced anything like that before. I got home and completely crashed. I said, ‘I’m never going to do that again!'”
“I got some funding from our regional arts council to make a short documentary,” Sikkila continued. “I had put together this short little film with all my footage. It was about 8 minutes long.”
Two months later, after preparing the exhibit with the 12 pieces of artwork from ten artists at the 410, “We opened the doors and there ended up being a huge crowd that showed up!”
Of course, 2018 marks the third time Sikkila did it again. “I brought on my riding partner, Kyle Zeiszler, who is the athletic trainer. The second year we started hiring a film crew.” The Project has grown steadily every year since.
Is It Worth It?
“I hear so many people say, ‘I really hate my job. I wish I could be doing something else,'” Sikkila said. “But it’s really hard for people to make changes. This project showcases that a lot can happen with the determined efforts of just one person. It’s advocating for the strength you have as an individual.
“We spend a lot of time reaching out past the borders of cities or who just graduated from art school, who just had exhibitions. Sometimes we showcase someone who’s had a lot of experience but then there are those who are working from their basement or their garage. Maybe they just started making two years ago but they’ve just figured out this creative outlet. They’re like, ‘I’ve always known I was a creative person but I didn’t know what to do with it.’
“Maybe they’ve never had a piece in a show, maybe they just give their work to friends and family. But we like to show that they still qualify as artists. They are creative people and they should feel confident in their skills!”
For Sikkila, the main point is to help people understand that they can make an important contribution to their community by sharing what is within them. “Art is a way to express ourselves as human beings,” she said. “It’s a way for people to gain connections and understanding. A fourteen-year-old can start that conversation. A ten-year-old can start that conversation. A fifty-year-old can start that conversation. Are you making things? Then you’re an artist!”
Since the first Project Bike tour in 2015, Sikkila and the 410 Project have hosted an exhibition of the artwork gathered on the tour. 2018 will see two events.
“We’re asking anyone and everyone from all over the state to come into Mankato on October 5th from 7-9 pm, and join together, a one-night creative community,” she said.
Sikkila gets excited as she describes what’s in store, “We’ll have an exhibit of all the artwork collected so people can see what was handled on the bike. We’ll have photographs from the tour, the trailer, the packaging. We’ll be highlighting not just the artwork, but the tour itself.
“We’ll have photographs of all the artists’ studios. They’re not always a big room with paintings all over the wall! Sometimes its a tool bench in a garage. We’re hoping someone says, ‘That’s how I work too!’ We’re hoping everyone can find one or two artists they can connect with in some way.”
After a chance to look at the exhibition, the 2018 documentary about the Project, the work of emerging filmmaker Austin Swain, will be shown in the parking lot behind the 410. Last year’s film premier drew over 200 people.
The exhibition at the 410 Project will be up for about two weeks after the opening on October 5th, so as many people as possible get a chance to visit.
“Then on October 20th,” Sikkila explained, “we’re taking all the artwork, the documentation, and the film and we’re having a one-night showing in Minneapolis at the Hennepin Theater Trust on Hennepin Avenue! We’re glad for the exhibit in the Metro area to show what a project coming out of southern Minnesota can be like. After that our film will be put online to view, but not until after October 20th.”
Both activities are free.
“I’m still surprised sometimes about the positive response to The Project,” Sikkila said. “It’s growing but this is a Mankato project. We’re going to make sure our hub stays the same and that we’re continuously supporting our artists, and our followers, and the creatives that help us along the way.”