The sun has set on Northern Spark. The nonprofit behind the annual dusk-to-dawn arts festival announced Monday that it no longer has the funding to keep staging the free fest and is shutting down.
"It's not only a COVID story. It's not only a leadership change story. It's not only a long-term shift away from arts funding story," said Sarah Peters, executive director of the St. Paul-based Northern Lights.mn. "It's a confluence of all of those things."
The organization, which began in 2008, won't put on another festival this summer, but it will hold a closing ceremony in June and will craft a tribute publication.
The first fun, frenzied Northern Spark took place in 2011, modeled on the nuit blanche or "white night" festival of arts and culture in Paris that stretches from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It kept that format until 2018, when it straddled two nights.
Co-director and founder Steve Dietz left the organization in 2019.
On Peters' first day as director, in 2020, Gov. Tim Walz announced a stay-at-home order in response the rise in COVID-19 cases. After a year off, the festival became a two-week-long series of events in 2021, a structure modeled for COVID times.
But a slimmed-down version of the all-nighter returned last summer.
"So we set to work planning for a 2023 festival that would be at this new scale," Peters said. "The grant and resources just did not come through, even at that reduced scale."
What the festival needed was consistent, multi-year funding it could count on, she said, rather than struggling to win grants aimed at new events. Since announcing the festival's end, Peters has heard from dozens of artists and attendees about what it has meant to them.
"It's very hard to sit in a place of power and make a decision to end this thing that is beloved in the city."
This summer's event, which will be held at sunset, will give people the opportunity to gather and to say goodbye.