Above: "Carry on Homes," a multifunctional pavillion hosting the stories of Minnesota immigrants, was part of Northern Spark 2018. Image provided by Northern Lights. 

Northern Spark, the popular two-night Twin Cities free public art festival, will take a break next summer. Its goal is to plan for the future following the impending departure of founder Steve Dietz, whose contract ends in March.

Festival co-director Sarah Peters, who will take on leadership, said Northern Spark plans to return in full force in summer 2021.

“When you are turning around every July and have to get going again right away immediately, it doesn’t allow a lot of room to synthesize all we have learned, all the different models we have practiced,” she said by phone.

One key challenge is to create innovative revenue models for the annual outdoor event, which was launched in 2011. Peters believes it’s important that the festival remain free, but she wants to find other ways to continue paying artists and sharing resources equitably with partners while funding basic necessities such as Port-o-Potties.

Peters described the organization’s financial status as “healthy.” Its annual budget has varied from year to year, averaging $500,000 to $600,000. Grants are an important piece of the funding puzzle, and Peters said Northern Spark continues to look for ways to align its mission with foundations as they shift dollars to address specific community needs. That's one reason the festival focused programming around climate change in 2016 and 2017, she said.

The staff also will reassess its strategy for the location of the festival, which has changed every year, giving artists a chance to work in their own neighborhoods and exposing the public to different art centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

During the year off, Northern Lights.mn, the nonprofit that runs Northern Spark, will work with its new Program Council, a group of independent artists of color who will promote racial equity in the organization. Both Dietz and Peters are white. Peters said the Program Council has been around in different iterations since 2016. But this year's group (including about seven people) will be tasked with thinking at a higher strategic level.

“We do want it to return as an annual event, likely the second weekend of June,” said Peters. “We just want to be more intentional about where it will happen, who the partners are, what the themes are. That can take a long time when you are doing that equitably with a lot of different partners.”

Last summer’s Northern Spark focused on themes of resilience, renewal and regeneration and was set in the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis and the historically black Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. In 2018, after seven years as a single-night, sunset-to-sunrise event, Northern Spark switched to two evenings of programming ending at 2 a.m. That meant more sleep for all involved, and a way to help avoid a complete rainout.

Northern Spark will resurface for a spring fundraiser in March, coinciding with Dietz’s departure. “It's his final sendoff," said Peters.”

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