Here's something else the pandemic has put in short supply: things to look forward to. So this year's Great Northern (Jan. 28 through Feb. 7) serves as an especially "bright light" in a season poised to feel even more isolated than usual, says Kate Nordstrum, the festival's new executive and artistic director.

The three-year-old Great Northern serves as an umbrella organization for the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and the City of Lakes Loppet to create more synergy among the longtime winter traditions.

Nordstrum comes to the role with a reputation for producing cutting-edge artistic programming — she created the acclaimed Liquid Music series — and a mission to expand the festival's sports-heavy scope.

Nordstrum wants the 2021 Great Northern to invigorate not just the body, but also the mind and soul. So she's putting together a range of complementary cultural programming, from visual art and music, to culinary endeavors and intellectual reflections on all sorts of subjects, including a forum on climate change.

A few examples: Nordstrum commissioned photographer Alec Soth and musician Dave King to collaborate on a project. She recruited chef Yia Vang to grill on an outdoor fire and chef Sean Sherman to share knowledge about winter foraging. She enlisted the Minneapolis architecture duo Dream the Combine to create "experimental walking" pedestrian routes that incorporate sensory cues and ideas to contemplate.

Nordstrum is currently working to secure funding for an ambitious site-specific artwork proposed by Jovan Speller and Andy DuCett — an ice-encased greenhouse growing a dramatic living display that sounds iconic enough to spark national curiosity about the Great Northern, just as a landscape-reflecting mirror house did for California's Desert X festival.

Fortunately, many Great Northern activities in the works before coronavirus arrived will require only small modifications to keep participants safe. Live indoor events were simply adapted to video, podcasts or reduced guest capacity. (Keep up to date at

To Nordstrum, who enjoys the creative challenge posed by restrictions, the coronavirus is, like winter's cold temperatures, just another constraint.

"I've really appreciated thinking positively as we head toward those dark days of winter and thinking about what it gives us and not what it takes away," she says.