The reviews are in for Northern Spark


It would be practically impossible for any critic to have taken in the entire line-up of festivities for this past weekend’s Northern Spark festival. And frankly, how many critics would want to work the graveyard shift?

So rather than seek out a variety of reviews in the local media, I turned to artists and art lovers to find out what they thought of the festival.

From poet and musician Anna George Meek:

I loved the reclamation of public spaces at night, a feeling similar to Take Back the Night marches, but with art. And many of the installations were in places that I’ve previously ignored, “no-man’s-land” spaces that suddenly became meaningful.

In general, the experience heightened our awareness to our surroundings; we were always looking for what was different, and sometimes couldn’t remember what was new and what we simple hadn’t seen before. (A friend remarked that she had never noticed the lights on the 35W bridge.) Everything became an installation. That sensation continued the next day, and for a while, nothing was ordinary.

I loved how many different kinds of people came out. Teenagers, elderly couples, families with kids, 20-somethings who were dressed for the club scene.

What I didn’t like was the number of pot-clouds I walked through, crowds of loud and/or drunk 15-24ish-yr-olds who weren’t there for the art or the community. Nothing against those who partake, but that’s not something I myself want to be a part of incidentally. After passing one particularly obnoxious group on the Stone Arch Bridge, I heard someone walking behind me say “It’s not really about the art.” And I thought: there are two ways to take that.

Cynically: it’s an excuse to get high and drunk in plain sight and be obnoxious in front of an audience. Optimistically: it’s about community and the the ability of art to transform our consciousness. Next year, I’m hoping the festival can be more about the latter, and less about the former.

My husband and I made it to 2am, and didn’t see nearly everything we wanted to. All in all, it was magical, an enormous effort that made me proud to be an artist and a TwinCitian.

From theater-goer extraordinaire Scott Pakudaitis:

I especially enjoyed dancing in the Dance Shanty, listening to Michael Croswell’s sound collage outside of the Black Dog at 3:30am, watching the projections at the Palace Theater and on the Landmark Center, especially near dawn when the clouds started becoming visible in the sky, and talking with random strangers about what they’ve seen and what they liked. I loved seeing the variety of art in the festival – sound, video, lights, movement, words, spray paint, shadows, concepts… you name it. The energy of the night was magical.

On the downside, in at least one instance – the installation Migrating Monoliths – Pakudaitis noted the installation had clearly been vandalized.

From artist Megan Mayer:

It made me go places I’d never been in the 25 years I’ve lived here–such as the riverfront in St. Paul, and the Foshay Tower in Mpls. From the observation deck from the top of the Foshay we could see the projections on the MIA in the distance. I was surprised how many people were still up and at ’em at 2am (I had an event outside at the Walker from 2-3) and that they were so willing to participate and game for trying something new.

Later that evening/morning, I saw a building’s neon sign with a few letters burned out. For a second I thought it must be part of the event and watched those letters waiting for something to happen. Something about the gorgeous, gorgeous weather, the lack of sleep and the buzzing energy of the crowds all contributed to this slightly warm, fuzzy feeling of community potency.

That said, the crowds and the artists I saw were mostly white, which is not a new issue in the arts world.

Several others offered rave reviews of particular events, and at least one noted that this was a great event for getting younger audiences interested in the arts .

Any thoughts you’d like to add? Do you think this should be an annual event? Share your review in the comments section.