There will be bees. Also a coral reef, melting ice, polluted Popsicles, paper boats, weather balloons, wolf calls, moose antlers and food made from dandelions.
Now in its sixth year, Northern Spark has grown up to have a conscience and a commitment. It’s still a free, all-night festival of lights, music and food, but with a slower, more relaxed and possibly quieter vibe. Plus a big issue to chew on.
Under the theme “Climate Chaos/Climate Rising,” more than 70 artists and art-related groups will stage interactive events designed to engage, inform and maybe enchant visitors with imaginative projects ranging from quilt-making to soil sampling, storytelling, dancing, singalongs and virtual reality films. Most events will be concentrated along the Mississippi River near the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater. It runs from 9 p.m. Saturday to 5:26 a.m. Sunday.
“What we’re interested in is how we can change people’s perceptions of climate change,” said Steve Dietz, president and artistic director of Northernlights.mn, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the Spark. “We are not, per se, climate change activists or a political agency, but we do want to change perceptions and people’s actions.”
To that end, the June 11 all-nighter is the kickoff to a yearlong series of climate-themed workshops, programs and meetings aimed at continuing the dialogue until next year’s Spark, which will be staged along the Green Line light rail connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“The real debate right now isn’t whether climate change is happening, but what are we going to do about it,” Dietz continued. “What artists do is nudge people into thinking in new ways. This is a dire moment in human history but it’s hard to think about it as dire, and artists can help us do that.”
If that sounds too apocalyptic, never fear. There will be fun.
The event will kick off with an early-evening (6-8:45 p.m.) family-friendly gathering at the Minneapolis Convention Center plaza. Kids will be able to decorate their eco-smart bikes, groove to live music and make glow-in-the-dark moose antlers for their bike helmets. Artist Heid Erdrich will use recycled plastic, rather than traditional birchbark, in a “Make-a-Moose-Caller” workshop.
Before the kids head home at 8:45 p.m. there will be a 5-minute “wolf howling tutorial.”
Next the action moves to the Guthrie/Mill City/riverfront area, where festivities carry on until dawn.
In the “Climate Carnival” tent, typical carnival games have been repurposed by a collective of arty types who call themselves “Yes, Let’s.” Players can win seed bombs or saplings by demonstrating their skills at “Recycle Toss,” “Pedal Power” or snaring ocean trash with the “Claw Cleaner.”
The Guthrie Theater will host a gigantic beehive, courtesy of Art Institutes International, that will offer honey snacks and include a build-a-bee workshop, infographics about what bees do and why they matter, and a “dance of the bees” light show.
Meanwhile, the Mill City Museum will screen videos by six artists on topics ranging from mercury contamination in the Amazon River to the search for oil and gas in the remote Arctic.
Speaking of ice: Enterprising types from “Futures North,” a collaborative design-and-build team, cut 12,000 pounds of ice from Lake Calhoun in March, stored it in insulating sawdust as old-timers once did, and will use it to demonstrate what’s happening to the polar ice caps. Pairing infrared lamps to computers programmed with climate-change data, they plan to simulate the tempo at which masses of ice melt(ed) in three eras: preindustrial times, the present day and a future “worst-case scenario.”
Making use of the nearby Mississippi River, artist Muna Ahmed and Cedarside 2016 Artists will tell stories and employ song and movement to simulate the experiences of migrants fleeing North Africa to escape war and environmental degradation. Participants can release their own messages in paper boats.
From reefs to roots
Coral reefs are getting a shout-out from an informal group of artists loosely affiliated with BareBones Productions and Art Shanty Projects. Several are concocting an “Illuminated Reef,” from recycled pool noodles, weed whips, mattress foam, fabric remnants, dried flowers and driftwood illuminated by LED and black lights.
“The only thing we purchased was the fluorescent Naugahyde from Ax-Man” surplus store, said Peter Schulze, a south Minneapolis artist who helped construct the reef and 30 colorful “fish-lanterns” shaped like cuttlefish, starfish, squid and other sea critters that the public can “swim” around.
“Coral reefs are the rain forests of the ocean,” Schulze said. Though they occupy less than 0.1 percent of oceans, they provide a home for 25 percent of all marine species. Unfortunately, reefs are dying off or “bleaching” because ocean temperatures are rising and the water is becoming more acidic, he explained.
“We’re trying to promote the realization that we’re connected to the reefs and that everything we dump into our drains ends up in the oceans,” Schulze said.
Nearby, University of Minnesota scientists will be at work in a portable soil lab where visitors can have dirt from their yards tested for heavy metals and fertility. Since serious science is involved in this BYO dirt project, visitors are advised that they should bring two cups of soil, gathered from various spots in their yards, and sealed in a zip-top bag.
Elsewhere, artists plan to make icky “Popsicles” from polluted water, scientists will represent weather data in “helium inflatables” (think balloons), Walker Art Center has lent some high-tech virtual reality films, and local chefs have promised tasty food and drink made from common dandelions.
Really. How fun is that?