All-night event a chance for Twin Cities artists to shine

Amy Carlson Gustafson, via Pioneer Press
May 9, 2011

There’s nothing typical about the newest Twin Cities arts festival. From the time it takes place — sunset to sunrise — to the number of local arts organizations involved — more than 50 — Northern Spark has potential to be a monumental arts event. Inspired by the worldly ‘Nuit Blanche’ movement of nighttime arts festivals that originated in Europe, Northern Spark plans to turn the urban landscapes of St. Paul and Minneapolis into one giant art gallery early next month.

“I had always wanted to do an overnight event but had never been able to,” said Northern Spark artistic director Steve Dietz. “I think it’s an interesting way to get a different take on everything that seems normal to you. It started with an idea around the programming and, for me, it was the amazing richness of the art scene. And it was an opportunity to do something along the river corridor and with other organizations in the Twin Cities.”

Starting at 8:55 p.m. June 4 and continuing until 5:28 the following morning, the Twin Cities will be home to more than 100 public art projects, many of which are happening on or near the banks of the Mississippi River. Opportunities to check out work by more than 200 artists are seemingly endless during the event — here’s just a small sampling of what you can experience: select photographs for projection onto the Gold Medal Flour silos; singers performing lullabies if you want to snooze in a public space; ride on a houseboat and take in a dance performance; or listen to a sewer pipe organ installation that will be played back from speakers inserted at the storm drain outfalls by the Mississippi River.

“You think you know a view, a city, a building, a park — and then to see it at night, it’s a different experience,” Dietz said. “So to do that in a safe, fun, active environment where you’re more excited about what’s around the corner than nervous about it, it really changes how people can experience the city. And the flipside is our commitment to reaching a broa d audience and engaging them in really fine art. Part of the mission of the ‘Nuit Blanche’ is that it’s free culture for everyone.”

One of the event’s most anticipated pieces is “Scattered Light,” an LED light installation by San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell (one of only a handful of non-locals participating in the festival). Located at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul near the Science Museum of Minnesota, the luminous three-dimensional piece — which was recently on view at Madison Square Park in Manhattan — will feature hundreds of hanging light bulbs that illuminate the night sky. Unlike other Northern Spark projects, “Scattered Light” will be on display through July 24.

For Minneapolis-based and internationally known artist Andrea Stanislav, Northern Spark presented a perfect opportunity to debut her new public video work, “Nightmare,” which creates the illusion of a white horse galloping on the Mississippi River. Led by a towboat, the 17′ x 25′ video screen carried on a barge will display the image of a horse with the river playing the part of a metaphorical racetrack. Viewers will be able to spot the unexpected image that Stanislav calls “ghostlike” from the banks of the Mississippi.

“I love the concept of the festival,” said Stanislav. “It’s so elegant within its simplicity, too, that it’s illuminating the city for one night. So many points in the Cities will be have video, light and sound installations. I think it’s literally going to be an electric experience. And I think the idea of staying up throughout the night will also bring the community together.”

Joe Spencer, director of arts and culture for the city of St. Paul, says the city has been working closely with the festival on logistical issues, including permits. He says he anticipates some people will be anxious about the all-night aspect of the event, but so far things have been going smoothly. One big question — will St. Paulites stay! up all night for the festival?

“Absolutely,” he said with confidence. “I’ve always had a hard time with all-nighters, though. I’m going to pick and choose my spots and I think that’s what most folks will do. I’m thrilled for folks who have it in their constitution to stay up all night. They’ll have plenty to do and see.

“The fact is this is very much a mission-driven festival that has a strong artistic curatorial element to it,” he said. “I don’t think success will be defined by how many people show up to a festival grounds, but rather by the artistic quality.”

To make sure folks have a chance to check out events in both cities, there will be free bus rides to select locations, volunteers to help people navigate festival events and security at various locales.

“The goal is that this will attract people to places — whether it’s going into a museum or down to the river or staying out past 10 p.m. at night — to a place they might not normally gather,” Dietz says. “They’ll congregate, they’ll have social interactions and it will really change how they think about their city and the relationship to it. That would be success for me if we have a lot of people out there enjoying themselves.”