Important News about Northern Spark

Tyra Payer

Northern to Take a Year Off from the Northern Spark Festival in 2020 to Plan for the Future

The free public art festival will return to the Twin Cities in June 2021 after a year of strategic planning and leadership transition.

(Minneapolis, MN) October 22, 2019 — Northern is announcing a one year hiatus from its flagship program, Northern Spark, while the organization undergoes a leadership transition in 2020. Since 2011, the free annual late-night public art festival has captured the hearts of tens of thousands of festival attendees in a dozen neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities, showcasing the innovative art of more than 2,300 artists. 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, Northern Lights will take a year off from producing Northern Spark in 2020, returning with a renewed vision for the festival in 2021.

Leadership Transition

Last spring, Northern Lights announced the planned departure of founder Steve Dietz in the spring of 2020. For the past year and a half, Sarah Peters and Steve Dietz have worked as Co-Directors, preparing for a leadership transition with Peters taking the helm. As part of this transition, Northern Lights is looking at all of the organization’s programs, including Northern Spark, and deciding how they need to transform into the future. 

“We have experimented with many different models for Northern Spark over the years,” says Peters. “This has been wild and rewarding, and allowed us to produce the event in divergent places, under myriad themes, and with many neighborhood and city partners. In the life cycle of such an event, it is time to focus all of this innovation and figure out what to take forward that is efficient, equitable and joyful.”

Northern Lights’s work with the Program Council (see below) is key to this strategic planning, along with work that staff and board are undertaking to refresh the organization’s vision for the next ten years.

Goals: Equity and Sustainability

In the past several years, Northern Lights has stepped up efforts to make participation in the festival more inclusive for both artists and attendees. 

As part of the transition year, the third Program Council, a group of independent artists addressing racial equity within Northern Lights’ programming, specifically with Northern Spark, will work on building a Community Engagement Strategic Framework for use in future Northern Spark festivals. This framework will create a process for how to best engage collaborators and determine festival locations to ensure that Northern Lights supports artists and communities equitably into the future.

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 expenses. Creating a plan for new, equitable models of revenue generation will help 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. 

This year of work will result in a plan for the future that foregrounds equity for artists and communities who participate, and creates a model for long-term sustainability of the festival. 

The Creative City Challenge will also Take a Year Off in 2020 

The Creative City Challenge will also be on hiatus in 2020. Through a partnership between Northern Lights, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy of the City of Minneapolis (ACCE) and The Commons, Creative City Challenge winners have created temporary artworks and two months of participatory programming, encouraging a sense of connectedness to the city and its rich cultural and natural offerings. For the last seven years, the Creative City Challenge winning projects have been launched as part of Northern Spark. 

In 2020, ACCE will evaluate the Creative City Challenge program, including the challenges and opportunities of implementation. The evaluation will look at how the Creative City Challenge can better work towards equitably serving emerging public artists of color, immigrant and Indigenous artists, Minneapolis neighborhoods as well as the downtown core. The Creative City Challenge will return in 2021.

Northern Spark 2021

Northern Spark will return in the summer of 2021. Northern Lights will engage with artists, partners, community members, and the public during the transition year to inform the vision for the festival’s future. Members of the public are invited to give feedback and stay connected through:

  • Community Survey. Northern Lights has always been inspired to continue producing Northern Spark because of the stories of wonder, curiosity, connection and joy we hear from attendees. We invite you to tell us why Northern Spark is important to you, what you would like to see change or stay the same in the future, and your favorite Northern Spark memory (or two) through this Community Survey
  • A public feedback event will be announced in the near future.
  • Spring Howl on in late March, 2020, a celebration and fundraising event.

Other Northern Programming Continues

Northern Spark is the largest program produced by Northern Lights, but it is not the organization’s only program. Additional Northern Lights programming will continue in 2020. This includes:

  • Art(ists) on the Verge, the annual, intensive, mentor-based fellowship program for 4-5 Minnesota-based, emerging artists working experimentally at the intersection of art, technology, and digital culture with a focus on network-based practices that are interactive and/or participatory.
    • The Art(ists) on the Verge 10 exhibition with work by Lindsy Halleckson, Essma Imady, Kathy McTavish, Khadijah Muse, and Chris Rackley in currently on view through Feb. 8, 2020 at Rochester Art Center.  
    • Art(ists) on the Verge 11 projects will take place in public spaces between September and November 2020. 
  • The Program Council (see above).

More information check out our FAQ page here.

Northern Spark Background

Since 2011, thousands of Minnesotans and visitors have enjoyed Northern Spark, an annual arts festival illuminating public spaces in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In early June, tens of thousands of people gather to explore giant video projections, play in temporary installations in the streets, and enjoy experimental performances in green spaces. Late into the night the city surprises you: friendly crowds, glowing groups of cyclists, an unexpected path through the urban landscape, the magic of sunrise after a night of amazing art and experiences.

Northern Spark began as a dusk-to-dawn event. In 2018 we introduced a new model for attendees to experience the artful magic of Northern Spark for two nights in a row until 2 am.

Memorable projects from past Northern Spark festivals include Chris Larson’s Celebration/Love/Loss, Jim Campbell’s Scattered Light, Luke Savisky’s Ex-MN, Pramila Vasudevan’s Census and In Habit: Living Patterns, Jonathan Thunder’s Manifest’o, and countless other projects from artists such as: Ananya Dance Theater, Marina Zurkow, HOTTEA, Miko Simmons, Piotr Szyhalski, May Lee-Yang and Million Artist Movement. 

Northern Spark is produced by Northern, a Twin Cities non-profit arts organization whose work ranges from large-scale public art platforms like Northern Spark to Art(ists) On the Verge, a year­long mentorship program for 4-5 emerging artists working with digital culture. We support artists in the creation and presentation of art in the public sphere, such as at St. Paul’s Union Depot (Amateur Intelligence Radio), “choir karaoke” at the Minnesota State Fair (Giant Sing Along) and Illuminate South Loop, a mini outdoor festival of nine interactive projects in Bloomington, MN’s South Loop in the days leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl. Through projects such as Aquanesia, a location-­based environmental mystery game, and large scale festivals themed around social issues, our work helps audiences explore expanded possibilities for civic engagement through art.