Northern Spark, the nighttime arts festival, will return this summer — but in a new form.

This year's festival will take place over two weeks in June online, by mail and, to a limited extent, in person.

Planning a year ahead during a pandemic for a festival that previously delighted in crowds was "impossible," said Sarah Peters, executive director of Northern Spark. "We decided to be cautious and plan some projects that didn't require public gathering."

That allowed organizers to be creative, experimenting with new formats, such as mail art. Artists of color are making a zine that will be mailed to St. Paul neighborhoods. Milkweed Collective is working on a project titled "Seed Paper of Hope." Composer Dameun Strange is creating a "Virtual Solstice Sound Garden."

This year's theme is "alchemy," and is meant to create space for "weirdness and empathy and grief and joy all together," Peters said.

As vaccinations roll out, leaders are still weighing an in-person event, because that's what Northern Spark is known for, she said. "It's what people love and look forward to."

But they're being cautious about inviting people into St. Paul communities, including East Side and Rondo, harder hit by COVID and still struggling with vaccine access, Peters said. "You sort of put out the word that Northern Spark is happening and thousands of people show up."

For its first seven years, Northern Spark ran from dusk until dawn. Then it became a two-night event.

Northern Spark took a long-planned hiatus in 2020 to regroup after its founder Steve Dietz stepped back. It turned out to be well-timed: "Then COVID happened," Peters said, "and everyone was on hiatus."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168