Northern Spark 2021 Open Call for Mail Art Projects

Sarah Peters

Northern Spark 2021 Open Call for Mail Art Projects

Application Deadline: Monday, January 25, 2021, at 11:59 pm, Central Time. This call is now closed. 

View or download a plain text PDF of this call here.


Northern Spark is a late-night participatory public arts festival that lights up the Twin Cities in early summertime. In 2021, the festival takes new forms: in the mail, online, and in person in St. Paul, MN during a two week span of time.

In past years during Northern Spark, tens of thousands of people have gathered throughout the cities from dusk to 2am on two nights. In 2021 the festival supports artist projects that encourage our communities to safely connect and still inspire the kind of experimental, surprising experiences we love at Northern Spark.

More information about previous years of Northern Spark: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019


Open Call Table of Contents




Northern Spark 2021 is taking place virtually, in the mail and in-person in St. Paul, MN from June 12 – 27, 2021.

This is an Open Call for Mail Art projects that integrate the U.S Postal Service and St. Paul’s Rondo/Frogtown and Eastside neighborhoods as essential and dynamic elements within their proposal.

2- 5 project proposals will be selected by a jury consisting of the Northern Spark Artist Council.

Proposals must also respond to this year’s theme: Alchemy.

Keep reading for information on how to apply, who is eligible and full timeline of required dates and meetings.

For information on future calls and Northern Spark 2021 project opportunities, sign up for our e-newsletter here.



This is an Open Call for Mail Art projects that integrate the U.S Postal Service and St. Paul’s Rondo/Frogtown and Eastside neighborhoods as essential and dynamic elements within their proposal. We hope to inspire you to safely create a confluence of artistic activity within these neighborhoods using the networks of the mail.

Examples may be, but absolutely not limited to: mailing handwritten letters, sending musical scores, dispatching postal carriers to plant seeds, or mailing small objects.

Why Mail Art?

In the past year, the post office has received unusual attention. Social distancing and quarantine have modified the value of hand-delivered packages, information and mail. Furthermore, in an election year, personal canvassing, political lobbying and voting created a viral hub of interest and debate concerning the postal service.

Large gatherings of people may not be safe by summer of 2021, despite the COVID-19 vaccines. Sending art through the mail is a way to extend Northern Spark’s ethos of “art for everyone” without asking people to leave their homes. It is also a way to reach St. Paul residents who may not normally attend an arts festival.

Mail Art has populist, anti-institutional roots, and experimental roots, as artists looked to disrupt traditional gallery systems by sending handmade or printed  postcards, letters, stickers, collages and even small objects through the postal service.

We love to support artists who tap into systems such as the mail service to connect people, places and ideas in unconventional ways.

For more information on the tradition and revival of Mail Art, check out some of these links:

Why Eastside and Rondo/Frogtown in St. Paul?

Initially, the 2021 Northern Spark festival was to take place in physical public spaces in the East Side and Rondo/Frogtown neighborhoods of St. Paul. We identified these locations because they have historically been excluded from arts investment even though they are sites of vibrant cultural expression and artistic spirit. Due to COVID-19, we have had to transition this portion of programming to virtual spaces and invite artists to design socially connective projects that still honor our initial place-based intentions.

Proposed projects do not need to be specifically about St. Paul, but need to articulate a connection between the proposed Mail Art and the residents of Eastside St. Paul or Rondo/Frogtown who will interact with the work.

Click here for a map of St. Paul’s Wards and District Councils.

Eastside neighborhoods: Payne/Phalen, Dayton’s Bluff, The Greater East Side, Eastview-Conway-Battle Creek-Highwood Hills (Wards 5, 6, 7; Districts 1, 2, 4, 5) 

Rondo: Summit-University (Ward 1, District 8) 

Frogtown: Thomas-Dale/Frogtown (Ward 1, District 7) 

Scale and Reach

The intention of the Northern Spark Mail Art projects is to connect meaningfully with as many people as possible in St. Paul’s Rondo/Frogtown and Eastside neighborhoods with the given resources.

For context:
Frogtown has 4,836 households
Rondo has 7,476 households
Eastside has a total of 15,308 households – 5,666 in Dayton’s Bluff and 9,642 in the greater Eastside

These numbers do not include businesses.

Is a project required to mail something to every address in the target neighborhoods with this budget? No. We know the materials and postage budget won’t cover all the addresses in these neighborhoods.

Does the artist / team need to provide the addresses for the mailing? No. Northern will work with the selected artists and St. Paul partners to source mailing lists tailored to the project’s goals and focus.


Northern Spark 2021: Alchemy


  • A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination
  • An ancient practice from around the globe wherein sorcerers of science attempt to transform base metals into gold.
  • A search for a universal elixir.

Artists are the modern-day alchemists. We mix form, materials, and ideas to transform the collective emotional matter of this world into new shapes. If art were a universal elixir for healing, how do we hold space for grief and loss as well as concoct recipes to honor our hunger for joy? How do we transform isolation into intimacy? Orbits into intersections? What community wisdom might we mix together for recovery?

This year’s distributed Northern Spark takes on new forms. For a span of two weeks, you can engage with the festival’s artist projects online, at home, and if you are a resident of St. Paul’s Eastside and Rondo/Frogtown neighborhoods, through the mail. Bring your grief, your joy, your self and be part of the elixir of magical transformation.

The theme was created by the 2021 Artist Council with Northern


This call is for individual artists, artist collectives, and creative community organizers. This open call opportunity is open to anyone with a connection to St. Paul, preferably the neighborhoods of focus for this year’s festival: Rondo/Frogtown and Eastside. Non-profit organizations or companies are not eligible to apply.

Who is an Individual Artist?

Anyone who is a maker of things or experiences in the realm of art; can be self-taught, or academically trained, emerging or seasoned as an artist.

What is an Artist Collective?

Groups of artists who work together toward shared artistic goals or projects. These groups may be ongoing or temporary for Northern Spark. Artist groups that have 501c3 status are not eligible.

Who is a Creative Community Organizer?

A creative community organizer is a community member who has been involved with uplifting and organizing communities. This person has a deep understanding of community politics, privilege, and power and uses their voice to challenge the system to create social change.


Projects will be evaluated according to these primary considerations:

Theme. How is your project inspired by the 2021 festival theme?

Imaginative connection and creativity.  How is your project using the mail in different or uncommon ways to connect people creatively?

Clarity or Known Unknowns. What is your project? Who will create it? What materials, process and methods will you use? We are looking for clear project descriptions that showcase a commitment to creativity. If there are parts of your project that are unknown, that’s okay, tell us what they are and what process you might use to figure them out.

Accessibility. How will your project integrate accessibility? We acknowledge that no project can be 100% accessible to everyone. Consider how your project will be experienced by people with differing abilities of vision, hearing, touch, cognition, etc.

Relationship to place. The applicant artists do not need to live in or be from Eastside or Rondo/Frogtown St. Paul, but proposals need to articulate a connection between the proposed Mail Art and the residents of Eastside or Rondo/Frogtown who will receive the work.


In addition, while none of the following are strict requirements, they are factors in making our decisions:

Sustainability. We encourage artists to consider their carbon footprint and potential waste while creating and implementing their project.
Participation. How will people interact with your project?
Duration. All public project components must take place during the two week window of Northern Spark 2021.
Feasibility. Can your project be prepared in the 3.5 months between notification of acceptance and the start of Northern Spark? And executed within the two week timeframe of the festival? (June 12-27, 2021) Northern will assist with general production, but you are responsible for the creation, production and execution of your project.
Inclusivity. All content must be appropriate, inclusive, and safe for a wide public audience of all ages.
Safety. Please consider the personal safety, including COVID safety, of your audience, yourself and the artwork itself.  Here is a resource of prohibited and restricted items from the USPS.
Free. Participation in the majority of Northern Spark experiences must be free of charge.  Projects that intend to sell art or products are not eligible.


If your project is selected, you will receive a budget of up to $6,500. We suggest you plan for an artist(s) stipend of $2,000 within this budget.

You will submit a budget with your application that outlines the primary costs of your project: materials, postage, equipment, services or hired help. The budget should reflect everything you need to complete your project. Your project should be scaled to fit within this stipend and materials budget.  Projects that are contingent on further fundraising will not be considered.

View sample budgets here.

If you have questions, email or come to an online Info Session.


The application process is entirely online. Applicants are required to submit:

Name of Artist, Artist Collective, or Creative Community Organizer (if collective, name Lead Artist)
Reliable Contact Information (phone, email, mailing address) Whoever checks these will be responsible for communicating with Northern staff for the duration of the project period.
Project Description (up to to 2 pages) Project title, project idea, material and equipment needs, processes for creation and your familiarity/experience with them, collaborators and feasibility (see Key Considerations, above). We encourage you to be as specific as possible. The proposal must explain the project’s connection to the festival theme and target neighborhoods in St. Paul (see above).
Artist bios and work samples of past work that communicates your ability to manifest the project you are proposing. Work samples do not need to be of the same material or media as your project idea, but give the jury a sense that you can complete a project on the scale you are proposing. Please include identifying information and/or brief descriptions.
A budget (1 page) that fits within the parameters of the open call and/or clearly identifies confirmed additional resources if you have any (not required!). Sample budgets will be available soon.

The submission form is on Submittable here.

For help with application for people unable to apply online or access the application, please contact us! 


Projects will be selected by Northern and the Artist Council, who reserve the right to request additional material and information after the proposal deadline, and to reject any and all proposals received.

Application Timeline:

Deadline for applications: January 25, 2021, 11:59 pm, CST
Artists notified no later than: February 12, 2021

Being a Northern Spark artist means being part of a community of makers. Festival artists take part in monthly meetings at which you receive and give feedback and problem solving for your and others’ projects, receive production and curatorial support and other networking benefits. Northern Spark is a professional development experience!

Before applying with a project, please make sure you will be available for the following dates and interested in a learning process. We want to help you succeed with your project.

Festival Artist Timeline:

  • Festival Artists Introductory Meeting: February 24, 2021, 6-8 pm on Zoom. *Please save this date
  • Monthly Festival Artist Meetings, 6-8 pm on Zoom: March 24, April 28, May 26
  • Festival projects take place between June 12 – 27, 2021.


Please join us for an Info Session about Northern Spark 2021 Open Call for Mail Art.

  • Wednesday, January 13, 2021 from 6:30-8:00 pm
  • Saturday, January 23, 2021 from 3-4:30 pm.

Both sessions will take place on Zoom. Find more information on Facebook: January 13th, January 23rd (link forthcoming).


The submission form is now live on Submittable. Find it here, as well as on the Northern Opportunities page.

If you are planning on submitting a proposal and would like to receive relevant open call updates, sign up for our e-newsletter.

If you have specific questions about the submission process, e-mail


Is a project required to mail something to every address in the target neighborhoods with this budget? No. We know the materials and postage budget won’t cover all the addresses in these neighborhoods. Be creative in how you think about where to engage in these neighborhoods.

Does the artist / team need to provide the addresses for the mailing? No. Northern will work with the selected artists and St. Paul partners to source mailing lists tailored to the project’s goals and focus.

How much detail about my production process do you want to see in my proposal? Be as specific as you can. We want to understand what you are proposing to send, to whom and how you will make it.  We want to see descriptions of any equipment you’ll use to make the work, any special processes would be needed or collaborators you’ll engage, etc. Basically, anything that will help us get a sense of how your project would come together.

I don’t need funding for my project / I can provide all the funding for my project, and I would like to present it at Northern Spark. What is the process I should follow? All proposals for Mail Art projects must go through the Open Call process. This is an equity practice, so all artists have a chance to be presented by the festival regardless of their access to resources.

Is there a set number of projects that will be accepted? At present we have funds to support 2-5 Mail Art projects depending on the proposal budgets. This may change depending on possible new resources or the proposed projects.

I’m not interested in presenting a project, but I really want to be a part of this festival. How can I get involved? You can volunteer! We love our volunteers. Email for more information.

What should I do if I don’t see my question listed in these FAQ’s? E-mail with any additional questions.


Photo caption: A person facing away from the camera wears a tweedy vest with a patch on the back that reads “Night Time Post – Mail is Magical.” In the background a triangular tent with colorful flags glows in the dark night. This project pictured is Nighttime Post by Erin Lavelle and Anthony Chapin from Northern Spark 2014. Photo by Dusty Hoskovec.