Night Visions (173 days)

Steve Dietz

Last Saturday, the StarTribune reprinted a story, which they called “Stop counting followers,” at least in the print edition. It was called “Quality over quantity in social media” in the original Chicago Tribune version. I’m not sure if this a difference that makes a difference, but the article caught my eye because Northern is currently going through a process to better understand the 40,000 people or so who show up at Northern Spark.

This process is part of our organizational work through the Arts Midwest ArtsLab Peer Learning Community, which is designed to support Resiliency in the arts community and enable the development of ideas and skills that strengthen the Ability to adapt to Change.

One aspect of this project is functional: to implement a Customer Relationship Management system. I have no doubt that this alone will allow us to communicate more efficiently and more effectively with our various audiences: donors, attendees, artists, volunteers, etc. You can only go so far with spreadsheets and Google docs.

But the real thrust of the program is to “move” some of that 40,000 audience to or toward the “core.” What is that core, you might ask? I know I do. The obvious marker is how do we get someone who attends and enjoys Northern Spark, a free event, to contribute to it. We sometimes call this the MPR model. But what is our pledge drive? More importantly, contributing is a potential outcome and not an actual description of this core. It’s about more than a transaction.

In my fantasy notion of the MPR model – I have no inside knowledge of their actual process or thinking – this non-transactional core is exemplified by the “driveway moment.” And we have something similar at Northern Spark, at least from my point of view: “night visions.” These are the moments that some people describe in our surveys of the event, and on social media.

“I had so many beautiful interactions with the city and her art, but the part I never expected was walking back to my car across the Stone Arch Bridge, sun rising over the smokestacks of the power plant as the city was slowly waking up around me. The river was inexorably making her way to NOLA, and I stopped and realized how amazing the little apple is. I have lived here for ten years and never experienced her in such a way before. It was our little secret: the river, the little apple, and me. A magical night!”

I have curated art and created cultural platforms for over 20 years, and never have I experienced so consistently such genuine enthusiasm about an event. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t criticisms. There are, of course, and there should be. But these night-vision-driveway-moments, quite honestly, keep us going. Keep us trying to make Northern Spark something that is truly Sustainable, Resilient, and with some Awe.

My goal as Artistic Director and our goal as an organization is to support the artists, build the audiences, and create the environment that enable these moments to occur. It is also our goal and desire to understand them. If you have a night-vision-driveway-moment, we’d love hear about it and for you to share it.