Northern Spark festival heads to St. Paul for 2013

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  • February 11, 2013 - 11:36 AM



Northern Sparkers watch the "SitandSpinShanty" at the 2012 Northern Spark. Star Tribune photo by Megan Tan.

Northern Spark, a one-night festival of avant garde art events, will focus its activities in St. Paul's Lowertown in 2013.This year's  festival will start about 9 p.m. Saturday, June 8 and run til dawn on Sunday morning.

Many of the events will occur in or near Union Depot, a 32 acre site that includes a vast former train station and concourse now being renovated as a transport hub for light rail, bus and Amtrack transportation.

"We are a roving experimental, interactive, media arts organization and we're doing some roving and some experimentation," said Steve Dietz, president and artistic director of Northern Lights.MN, the non-profit sponsor of Northern Spark.

The city of St. Paul did not chip in any special funding to lure the event there, Dietz said. His organization has been developing a $500,000 public art commission for Union Depot for the past 18 months, however, and exposure to the depot's space and its potential inspired him to move the Spark there 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 1971and, 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.

Since it was first launched in 2011, Northern Spark has been staged throughout the Twin Cities but tended to concentrate in Minneapolis. Many events clustered near the Stone Arch bridge spanning the Mississippi River and at key venues including Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the Soap Factory.

The 2013 festival will have about the same number of participants as in the past, Dietz said, that is 45 partner organizations and about 75 artist-projects involving about 100 artists.Highlights are expected to include a house that artist Chris Larson plans to build  -- an exact copy of a Marcel Breuer house that overlooks the Mississippi River -- plus several new public art commissions.

Dietz acknowledged that attendance could fall because of the move, but insisted the risk was worthwhile. "When you change location, there's always that chance, 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," he said.


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