Frequently Asked Questions – Northern Spark Hiatus

Tyra Payer


Northern has announced a one year hiatus from our flagship program, Northern Spark, while the organization undergoes a leadership transition in 2020.  (Read the full announcement here: )

We are doing so in order to reflect on the previous nine years of dynamic and ever-changing Northern Spark festivals and plan for the festival’s long-term sustainability and equity. 

Read below for answers to some common questions. 


Why is Northern Spark taking a break in 2020?

  • Northern is taking a break from organizing the festival in 2020 in order to reflect on the previous nine years of dynamic and ever-changing festivals and plan for the long-term sustainability of Northern Spark.
  • We announced last spring that Northern Lights founder Steve Dietz would be stepping away from the organization in the spring of 2020. A significant part of this leadership transition is looking at all of the organizations programs and figuring out how they need to transform into the future.
  • Northern Lights is a lean organization, and the festival is a significant undertaking. Deeply engaging in important strategy work with staff, board and our Program Council requires a year off from planning Northern Spark.



Is Northern Spark in financial trouble?

  • Producing an annual festival requires significant costs, including artist fees, staffing, equipment rental, permit fees, marketing, security, electricity, recycling and port-a-potties, among other costs. Creating a plan for new, equitable models of revenue generation will ensure Northern Spark’s long-term sustainability and decreased reliance on grants, while maintaining the accessibility of the event that is important for its success and sense of community.

Who funds Northern Spark?

  • Northern Spark is supported by a mix of foundation, local and state government grants, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and fees from food vendors and presenting partners. Within this mix, foundation grants are the largest piece of the pie, and while we are so grateful for this support, competitive grants are not a stable source of income year after year. 
  • Northern Lights also receives Operating Support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and McKnight Foundation which in turn supports Northern Spark and all of our other programming.



How can I get involved in planning for the future of Northern Spark?



What is the plan for Northern Spark in 2021?

  • We are currently working with the Program Council to develop a Community Engagement Strategic Plan for Northern Spark to use for the 2021 festival and beyond. We won’t know the who, what and where of Northern Spark 2021 until that work is complete and conversations begin with potential Neighborhood Partners in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. We plan to return to the 2nd weekend in June with presentations of the multidisciplinary, participatory, spectacular and intimate art that people look for during Northern Spark.

Who creates Northern Spark?

  • Northern Spark is produced by Northern, a non-profits arts organization. We are a lean organization with roughly 1.5 full time equivalent year round staff. A core team of temporary staff of fewer than 10 people are hired to organize Northern Spark each year, along with upwards of 30 additional weekend-of festival roles such as production assistants and a zero-waste team. 
  • We also work with numerous Neighborhood, Venue and Presenting Partner organizations each year who produce their own artistic programming for the festival.
  • For the 2017 and 2019 festivals, the Program Council, a rotating group of independent artists, worked with us to develop the festival’s open call and juried artist projects commissioned by Northern Lights.
  • And of course, artists create Northern Spark. Northern Lights commissions between 10 and 30 artist projects for each festival, depending on the year. Presenting Partners contribute additional artist projects each year.