Important News about Northern and Northern Spark

Sarah Peters
A person with dark skin and short hair, wearing a hoodie and long shorts, talks through a bullhorn in a concrete and metal structure at night. Their knees are bent and head tilted slightly back. To their right is a person with light skin and wearing black and grey, sitting in a chair. They are holding a shovel parallel to the ground, at waist level. Near them are music stands, and a crowd of onlookers watches from behind.

Piotr Szyhalski, Permanent Labor, Northern Spark 2013. Photo: Jayme Halbritter.

For immediate release

Important News about Northern and Northern Spark  

(St. Paul, MN) January 30, 2023 – After 15 years and 851 projects supporting thousands of artists, Northern (NL) announces that we have made the difficult decision to sunset our organization. Rather than a 2023 Northern Spark festival, we will hold a final program this June, and then share an artist-centered publication honoring our work, to be published in 2024.

NL is not in a fiscal or leadership crisis, but a careful analysis of our current finances and projections into the next several years show a picture of reduced income to such a degree that we would be unable to fulfill our mission and vision with integrity.  The reasons for this are complex, from the pandemic to shifting philanthropic focus to decreases in individual donations.

While we believe that participatory art in public space is what the world needs now, we also believe that not everything is intended to last forever. “We supported artists through 15 years of ambitious public projects that shifted how people experience this place where we live,” says Executive Director Sarah Peters. “We are proud of this work, and are choosing to close with grace rather than continue to do less with less.” After many conversations with our Board, staff, artists, and partner organizations, we have decided to intentionally dissolve the organization while honoring our many years of incredible programming.

Staff and Board are so thankful to everyone that has supported our work in myriad ways, trusted us to present their art, or partnered with us on adventurous projects. During the next few months we will announce our final summer programming, begin crafting a tribute publication, and start the process of dissolution.

Stay tuned for ways to contribute your memory of a Northern experience and for ways to celebrate our legacy.

In sparkling gratitude,
Northern Board



Sarah Peters
Instagram: @Northern


Sunsetting FAQs

Why is Northern closing now?

These are tough times for many sectors, and especially the arts.

  • Financial instability: Shifts in philanthropy leave us in a challenged position; we face reduced funding for the arts in the form of smaller grants, fewer grants and more competition for those grants. Diminished corporate sponsorship and reduced overall individual giving due to continued economic inequities.
    • Artists and staff live and work within this economy, and thus deserve increased wages and budgets, at the same time as the current decrease in resources. In recent years we have raised artist stipends as much as possible within our budget, yet find that these awards are insufficient for those trying to make a sustainable living from their art.
  • COVID-19: Planning events during a pandemic, even if they are in the relatively “safe” outdoors, has been challenging and planning multiple scenarios with redundant staffing in the case of illness exacerbates financial trouble. We know Northern is not alone in these struggles.
  • Exhaustion: Constant adaptation in the face of these challenges is bone-tiring work, and it is exacerbated by the lack of stable funding for care and benefits for both staff and artists.

Is there no way to save Northern

Our Board and staff have considered many scenarios, but we believe that closure is the most responsible choice at this time. We could potentially continue by having our volunteer Board take on more operational responsibilities, laying off all permanent staff and only offering part time contract work without benefits, running Northern Spark as our only program and converting it from free to ticketed. Our research and discussions with other ticketed festivals* reveals that ticket sales are not reliable or timely, especially at a logistically complex outdoor spectacle. It would be immensely difficult for ticket sales to cover the full cost of the event at affordable prices for patrons. We believe that sunsetting now is the sustainable choice rather than to compromise our professional standards of quality, artist care, and accessibility to the arts.

Also, importantly, NL is one part of the broader arts ecosystem in Minnesota (and beyond). Because so many of the challenges we face are shared by others, we don’t believe there is a solution that can “save” Northern that doesn’t address the larger inequities that inform funding structures in the arts. We hope that our decision to close helps prompt an opportunity for our ecosystem to reevaluate arts priorities and resources.

Lastly, we believe, in our hearts, that Northern is more than an organization with a 501c3 status. We are a web of relationships and knowledge between individuals and organizations, developed over years of partnership. Artists and staff with whom we have worked have gone on to make new opportunities for themselves and others, and likewise have informed our ways of working during their time with NL. This network of learning and making is alive.

*We support other festivals that have moved from free to ticketed models! We’ve simply determined that this will not work for Northern Spark.

Wait, didn’t Northern get pandemic support like PPP?

Yes, NL did receive one PPP loan in 2020 for a total of $20,000 that was forgiven. These one-time emergency funds helped recoup some of the expenses from loss of programming, but they did not fully replace lost revenue, nor are they likely to recur despite the ongoing pandemic.

Who made this decision?

Northern board, along with Executive Director Sarah Peters,  core staff, and long-time NL artists were involved in discussions over the last several months leading to this consensus. Major funders, program partners and members of our artist network were also informed or involved before the final decision was made.

What happens next, or what is your timeline?

Within the coming weeks, we will announce our final program for early summer 2023. (We will not host a 2023 Northern Spark festival.)

Over the spring and summer we will begin crafting an artist-centric publication honoring our history, which will be published in 2024. Stay tuned for a call for contributions.

We will also begin work with artists and community partners to determine the best way to archive our organizational history. We’ll file our legal dissolution paperwork with the Minnesota Secretary of State before the end of 2023, once we’ve created a plan to distribute remaining organizational resources.

How can I support Northern final programming and honor your legacy?

If you are a sustaining donor, please consider maintaining your monthly giving through June 30th as we have general operating expenses and close down costs, including staff time for legally required dissolution steps, final accounting costs and our planned publication. If you would like to make a final donation to this work, you may do so here: or contact Sarah at

Stay tuned for ways to contribute your memories of our programming!

If I have more questions, who should I contact?

Please email Thanks in advance for your patience.