Community is the name of the game at this weekend's Northern Spark. Now in its ninth year, the nighttime summer arts festival began reaching out to residents of two neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul a year ago.
"We went to different community events in the American Indian Cultural Corridor (in Minneapolis) and the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul and said, 'Northern Spark is going to come here next year. What do you care about in your community?' " said festival co-director Sarah Peters.
Three words kept coming up: resilience, renewal and regeneration.
"That's how people described their communities," said Peters, who is preparing to take on full leadership of Northern Lights as founder Steve Dietz steps aside in the coming months.
Those three words guide this year's Northern Spark, which takes place Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. in the historically black Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul and the American Indian Cultural Corridor along E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, as well as the Commons park near U.S. Bank Stadium.
Those words were also on the minds of Candida Gonzalez and Mary Anne Quiroz, co-creators of "Radical Playground," an interactive installation at the Commons where people can mingle with alebrijes, fantastical and supercolorful creatures from Mexico.
"[We] had already been talking about: How do we celebrate? How do we heal our communities? How can we as communities of color be resilient and heal ourselves?" said Gonzalez. "And we really believe strongly in the idea that it is through celebration of our culture."
"Radical Playground" will debut Friday night with a ceremony at 9:10 p.m. by Quiroz's Mexica-Aztec dance and drum group Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, featuring puppet outfits by artists in Oaxaca, Mexico. The installation, which won $50,000 in funding through the annual Minneapolis-co-sponsored Creative City Challenge, will continue through August at the Commons with occasional special events.
Reconnecting with Rondo
Fourth-generation Rondo resident Miko Simmons, who is participating in his fourth Northern Spark, will light up a neighborhood space he's known for many years.
The first art show he participated in was at Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, curated 30 years ago by Ta-coumba T. Aiken and Seitu Jones.
It was unforgettable, he said.
"These guys told me when I was a teenager: 'Look, you have talent, and don't let anyone tell you that as a black man you can't do art.' "
Simmons went on to become an international artist, most recently designing rock operas in Seoul for seven years. He returned to Rondo in 2014 to care for his aging parents. The historically black neighborhood was fractured and devastated by the construction of Interstate Hwy. 94 in the 1950s and '60s. Now it faces gentrification issues.
He will present his experiential performance-art event "(Re) Member: A Visual Jazz Odyssey" from 9 to 2 both nights. It celebrates the legacy of Rondo and his ancestors through the sounds of jazz that will activate visual projections in a room at Hallie Q. Brown. He's invited MMYYKK, a founding member of the Twin Cities band AstralBlak, to provide musical direction, along with spoken word artists and poets to bring textual essence to the piece.
To have his work come home to the neighborhood that lifted him up is just "one of those beautiful kısmet events," Simmons said by phone.
On the avenue
Performance is also at the heart of this weekend's activities in the American Indian Cultural Corridor.
"WEave: HERE," by Rosy Simas (Seneca) and Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe), is happening both nights, with a procession from 11 to midnight down Franklin Avenue. It includes movement, projection and an interactive art performance and installation by Duluth-based Jonathan Thunder (Ojibwe).
His three-story projection, "Manifest'o," features three animated vignettes based on stories he has heard in Ojibwe communities honoring the water, the sky and the goldfinch.
"It reflects the indigenous language that lives all around us — you see it in street names, rivers and lakes," he said. "The fact that I get a chance to project these animated vignettes onto a building on Franklin in Minneapolis is just a way for me to give back to the community."
Central American indigenous culture will be reflected in an installation at the Minneapolis American Indian Center called "Xopantla: The Flowering of Light." A celebration of sunlight and agricultural rituals grounded in Mexican tradition, it includes indigenous representations of nature and an altar where visitors can leave an offering of a candle, a flower or fruit (9-2 both nights).