Mankato artist Dana Sikkila has found has a unique way of gathering art to display in her gallery, The 410 Project
“This project is one person getting on her bike and showing the effort and creating this thing that affects a lot of people. You don’t need a lot of money; it can be super simple and still make a really big impact.” –Dana Sikkila
This August, Mankato artist Dana Sikkila set off on a nine-day, 460-mile trip across southern Minnesota, visiting 11 area artists and bringing back their work to exhibit at her Mankato gallery.
The trip and subsequent exhibit would be impressive enough on its own as a heartfelt look at the artists of Minnesota, but there was one other major factor.
Sikkila covered the entire route on her bicycle.
This is actually the second year that Sikkila has organized the tour, working through a local art gallery and exhibition space called the 410 Project. Sikkila, who has been the project’s director since 2012, heads up a team of volunteers who both share their own art and offer classes, lectures and workshops for other art lovers in the area.
Sikkila explained that 410’s Project Bike grew out of her goal of constantly exploring art and the people that create it.
“It was kind of a project that was really based around my two passions: art making and biking,” she said. “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.”
While the idea brewed in Sikkila’s mind for several years, she admits it took her awhile to get going because of how intimidating it was to plan an entire tour—especially via bike. However, thanks to a grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, she was finally able to organize a trip last August. 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.
“Last year was a total learn-as-you-go process,” Sikkila said.
She added that it was even more intimidating since she was traveling as a single woman on a bicycle—a rather vulnerable way to travel. In fact, she was actually hit by a car last year, but some locals were able to fix her bent tire so she could continue on her trip. She also had to take her chances when it came to bedding down for the night, doing everything from crashing on acquaintances’ couches to camping under the stars.
Perhaps the hardest part, though, was the physical grind as she rode an average of 30-plus miles every day.
“The main struggle is really having to push yourself physically that many days in a row,” she said. “My trailer, by the end, was nearly 100 pounds. And it was super hot. It gets really taxing on your body and on your brain. Then there’s having to push away how you physically feel and switch to mentally working, interviewing artists, as opposed to on your bike, when you have to keep pushing your legs. That was difficult, switching back and forth.”
Sikkila said the project gained interest and support right away, especially through social media as people followed her updates. When she held a grand opening for the month-long exhibit in October 2015, including an eight-minute video she had created about her travels, so many people attended opening night that her gallery couldn’t hold them all.
“People were following [my travels] daily, and that helped keep me going,” she said. “If I didn’t get on my bike and force myself to push the pedals down, the project didn’t happen. It was totally up to me to get over the fact that I was tired… This was a bigger picture. This was about other people. I think people really caught onto that.”
Still, because of the physical strain and the difficulties of planning such a trip, she wasn’t sure that she was going to take another trip this year. However, a friend talked to her about how inspiring the video had been to so many people. And it was that “keep pushing yourself” theme that encouraged Sikkila to push herself again.
“The project highlights the idea of self-motivation—if you have an idea, you just have to make it happen,” she said. “You have to show people that you have to push yourself forward.”
So, in the end, Sikkila decided to once again pump her tires full of air and hit the road. This August, she traveled 450 miles in only nine days, visiting 11 artists and bringing back 12 pieces of art. Some of them were selected out of a call for applications, while others were approached by Sikkila about becoming involved in her project.
“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 found artists from all backgrounds, ethnicities 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.
She said one of the best parts is giving local artists a chance to talk about their work and what inspires it.
“Last year and this year, everyone was so excited that you were there,” she said. “It was really exciting for me to give people the opportunity to talk about their work. It really makes them feel positive about being an artist. One guy, he said, ‘I’m never going to be someone who’s on TV. But this is my one chance to be highlighted for something that I’m really passionate about.’”
This year, Sikkila was accompanied by True Façade Pictures, a local film team that wanted to film her progress. After her trip was finished, the filmmakers used the material to create a 30-minute documentary.
Sikkila said she isn’t sure if she will make this trip an annual event, though she is definitely interested.
“It’s a really simple concept,” she said. “It’s something that can always be expanded. It’s not just a one-note thing.”
This year’s exhibit opens Oct. 7 with a special event that runs from 7-9 p.m. and includes food, music and a special showing of True Façade Pictures’ documentary. The exhibit itself is running until Oct. 23.
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.
More info on 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, Project 410’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 email@example.com.
Grace Webb is a freelance writer in Southern Minnesota. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org