Northern Spark heading to St. Paul

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2013 - 12:37 AM

The popular all-night arts celebration will move from Minneapolis to the renovated Union Depot June 8-9.

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"PixelTron 150" was an interactive game along SE. Main St. during the 2012 Northern Spark Festival.

Photo: Megan Tan, Star Tribune

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Northern Spark, a one-night festival of alternative art and performances that drew about 40,000 people last summer, is moving this summer from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

The event's third outing, running from dusk until dawn June 8-9, will be centered on downtown St. Paul's Union Depot, a 32-acre site now being renovated as a transport hub.

The city of St. Paul did not chip in any special funding to lure the event, said Steve Dietz, president and artistic director of Northern.Lights.MN, the nonprofit that runs the event. His organization has been developing a $500,000 public-art commission for Union Depot and the site inspired him to move the Spark for one season.

"Working with Union Depot is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we're going to focus a lot of energy on it and Lowertown this summer," Dietz said. "It's a place really no one has seen much of since 1971 and, while it's now reopened, it hasn't reached maximum use. We're going to take over all 32 acres and have indoor and outdoor projects and stages."

Spark events will spill out into Lowertown, including Mears Park and the riverfront. Nevertheless, it will be "more compact than either of the first two years," said Dietz.

When it launched in 2011, Northern Spark had events in both cities. Last year it focused on Minneapolis, with activities around the Stone Arch Bridge and venues including Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the Soap Factory.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he is disappointed by the move -- "It was one of the best nights I can remember in downtown" -- but wishes the organization success. While Minneapolis cannot afford to support the festival, he said, city officials are talking with participating institutions about trying to do something else on a different night.

Walker Art Center hopes to reach potential new audiences in St. Paul via a Spark program being developed by MNartists, a Walker-affiliated group of state artists, said spokesman Ryan French.

The Soap Factory, an experimental art site across the river from downtown Minneapolis, also plans to stage an event at Union Depot. About 3,000 people trooped through the venue on Spark night last summer but access may be impeded this year by construction of condominiums that are rising on three sides of the venue.

Given the festival's organizational demands and cost, it makes sense to concentrate events in a single city, said Soap Factory executive director Ben Hayward. "I don't think that anyone should expect that an organization provide such a fantastic event every summer at such a low cost," Hayward said.

The 2013 budget is not yet fixed and fundraising is still underway, said Dietz. The first year's festival was produced for about $222,000 including a $132,000 grant from the State Arts Board and the state's arts-and-cultural-heritage fund. The remainder came from individuals, foundations and corporations.

As in previous years, the 2013 event will involve about 45 partner organizations and roughly 75 artist-projects including several new public-art commissions. One highlight will be a house that artist Chris Larson plans to build -- an exact copy of a Marcel Breuer house overlooking the Mississippi River -- that he will float downriver, then set aflame.

Attendance could fall because of the move, Dietz acknowledged, "but I think we'll gain some new audiences, and it's all part of trying to remain true to our mission of being experimental," he said. Besides, in 2014, "We'll be back in Minneapolis for sure, and looking forward to it."

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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