Co-Director’s Column

Sarah Peters

Co-Director’s Column
November 21, 2019

The unseen work of taking a pause.

A little over a month ago we made the announcement that we’re taking a strategic hiatus from producing Northern Spark this summer, 2020.  A lot of preparation when into that communique; with what feels like a degree of instability in certain sectors of the arts community right now, we wanted to make sure our community of artists, partners, supporters and fans would understand the care with which we made this decision. We didn’t know what response would return after hitting “Send Now” on our press release and newsletter.

Over the next several hours and days, the messages that came back to us, largely, were congratulatory and supportive. “Good for you!” was a common refrain.  “More arts organizations and programs should do this,” and “we’ll miss Northern Spark, but glad you’re taking the time for reflection this year,” appeared online and in my inbox.

I’m so thankful for these responses and the understanding they indicate, as I truly believe that we — any of us— are the only ones who can stop the frantic pace at which we feel we must work. This sense is of course furthered by an increasing feeling that the world is on fire (some of it is) and our work can’t wait. But what I’ve learned in the past few months, as that there is big, rewarding work in slowing down and taking time.

Last week we had the 2nd meeting of our 3rd Program Council (profiled above and here) to dig into a large set of interlocking questions about the who, what, where, how and when of the Northern Spark festival.  Community, partnership, place, artists, audience, funding —how do all of these work together in an equitably organized festival?

We met for 4 hours in the side room at Indigenous Roots, eating burritos and covering big sheets of paper with refreshed and project-specific definitions of that list of words above. As we untangled a lot of ideas, we started to put down our dreams for a festival that grows from genuine community engagement into an event that supports and uplifts artists, festival workers, and partners while continuing to make an uncommon, magical, immersive, nighttime art experience for everyone.

After we cleaned and I made by way home at 9 pm after a 12 hour day I forgot how tired I was.  The care for our collective work that emerged from the meeting was a spike of positive energy.

There is a lot of attention paid to self care right now, and increasingly we’re in conversation about organizational self care.  What does it look like to take care of individual selves, and also our organizations in this sector?  We have two more 4 hour meetings and a few shorted wrap up meetings before the Council finishes its work on a Community Engagement Strategic Plan for Northern Spark. You might call me crazy for considering 12+ more hours of evening meetings over the next few months as self care, but this is where I find nourishment right now, and I’m gonna take it!

Thanks for reading.

-Sarah Peters
Co-director, Northern