Northern Spark is like those former college all-night ragers who now need their eight hours of ZZZ’s.
After seven years as a single-night, sunset-to-sunrise outdoor arts festival, Spark is splitting its schedule over two evenings, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The thrill of staying up all night will be lost, but more sleep could mean more fun.
“Two nights is an experiment,” said publicist Amy Danielson. “It’s just quite unpredictable to plan one night, not knowing what would happen with the weather.”
Northern Spark devotees will remember 2014, the year of torrential downpours. Last year, a big storm came through as artists were beginning to tear down their projects — a near-miss. Weather this year appears to be clear skies, but given this week’s on-again, off-again rain, anything could happen.
Such is the experimental nature of the program, taking place this year in downtown Minneapolis at the Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis Central Library and the Commons park next to U.S. Bank Stadium.
The latter location helped inspire this year’s theme, “Commonality.” A total of 28 artists received stipends ranging from $1,500 to $6,000 for projects responding to the stormy cultural and political landscape and trying to raise awareness, both societally and interpersonally.
Friday night kicks off at the Commons with a “Star Wars”-inspired performance called “Smart Wars: Mni Wiconi Alliance,” organized by Anishinabe artist Rory Wakemup. He calls it “funktavism” (fun activism), switching in Native heroes and villains and removing racist ones as part of a broader cultural project aimed at the “reawakening of indigenous ancestry” on Earth.
Sami Pfeffer’s project “The Archive of Apologies and Pardons,” which runs both nights at the library, aims to get people thinking more critically about what it really means to apologize.
“Harm is a spectrum,” said Pfeffer, whose inspiration came out of doing community-accountability work for folks who have decided not to pursue criminal-justice remedies for assault or abuse because they don’t want to go to the police.
People can take “Official Notice of Apology” forms from a library cart and fill them out, while thinking about what it means to take responsibility for one’s actions — an act befitting the age of #MeToo, when powerful men who have caused harm are making weak apologies that come off as defensive.
What does it mean to truly apologize? Pfeffer was surprised by the vulnerability shown by people at a Spark preview event.
“I’d be into any apology, [but] I am hoping for things that are specific,” Pfeffer said. As an example, he pointed to the issues of systemic racism and white privilege: “ ‘I’m sorry about being white’ would be missing the point. But an apology like ‘I’m sorry about this thing I’ve done that I’ve learned to do as a white person’ would be better.”
The idea is to raise self-awareness and accountability, while decreasing the stigma and shame around apologizing.
Pfeffer, who has participated in Spark twice before, thinks the shift to two nights is a good idea: “Between 2 and 6 a.m. there were way fewer people, and the people who did come through tended to be a little less respectful.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Kashimana Ahua and Filsan Ibrahim’s performing duo, “The Applause Posse,” will offer up praise.
“We’ll be asking people questions and then showering them with musical compliments,” said Ahua. Both nights they’ll start at 5th Street and Nicollet Mall, moving south one block every hour on the hour before returning to the library around 1 a.m.
The duo is interested in the ways positive feelings can spread. After testing the idea at Art-a-Whirl, the duo started workshopping a way to save the compliments, recording them on their phones or a tape recorder. They’ll upload the compliments to SoundCloud next week, and post them to Ahua’s Facebook page.
For Ahua, the new schedule is enticing. Last year, she ended up doing one performance from 4 to 5 a.m.
“We’re going to see what the two nights feel like — it might be the same amount of tiredness, but I like that it’s ending a little bit earlier,” she said. “Staying until 5 a.m. was really tough.”
But she won’t really know until it’s all over. “Ask me on Sunday.”