Northern Spark: One Of The Twin Cities’ Biggest Marketing Assets

June 4, 2013
Minneapols Northern Spark

Northern Spark – Barbara Claussen, Modern Monoliths migrating, Water Power Park

It’s hard to get to know a city. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for eight years and still feel like we’re just getting to know each other. I used to not give much thought into what drives people or keeps people in certain cities — it almost seems like a force too big, too complicated to try and understand.

I started to better understand it a few years ago when I read Springboard for the Arts executive director Laura Zabel’s open letter to Kansas governor Sam Brownback. Zabel outlined how a decision to eliminate support for the Kansas Arts Commission reinforced an underlying lack of arts investment in the city and how those types of cultural decisions create financial consequences in the long-term.

“Your actions have taken away opportunities for young people to find their voices, for citizens to make their communities better, and for the cultural traditions of Kansas to be preserved. Your actions have taken away very real income opportunities and jobs for the state of Kansas. And you’ve made sure that no one ever will ask me why I left Kansas.”

Zabel’s open letter resonated with me — not because it strikes a chord with why I left Texas, but because it reinforces why I’ve stayed in Minnesota.

States are economic power engines that depend on population growth and retention, and while there are many variables that influence those trends, for me, placemaking is a top priority.

And that’s what Northern Spark does best — it takes placemaking to a new level. Thousands of Minnesotans get to roam the city late at night. It’s the city we’ve always known, but for one night it’s transformed into an enchanted cityscape illuminated by glowing art, temporary sculptures, once-in-a-lifetime performances, food trucks, and festivals.

Northern Spark 201

Wil Natzel, Night Blooms, Mill Ruins Park, Northern Spark, 2012. Photo: Patrick Kelley.

Northern Spark 2012

Michael Murnane, Under Ice, Pillsbury A Mill, Northern Spark, 2012. Photo: Patrick Kelley.

The power of being able to reconnect with the Twin Cities and see it through the perspective of artists reminds me year after year why this is such a wonderful place to live.

This Saturday I will get to go out yet again and reconnect with my city through the 80+ projects created by more than 200 artists. And for anyone still undecided about the Twin Cities’ value as a cultural, placemaking hub, I hope you’ll join me.

My Northern Spark 2013 must see list (what’s on yours?): 

  •  The Center for Hmong Art and Talent bring its Fresh Traditions Fashion show to an unconventional runway at Union Depot.
  • Works Progress, who brought the Mississippi Megalops to Northern Spark in 2011, returns with a sunrise river cruise aboard the Jonathan Padelford.
  • Union Table is a multi-use ping pong table that acts as a place for entertainment, a tool for creating conversations and an interactive musical instrument for exploration and expression.
  • Analog Cave combines the tactile intimacy of a handwritten letter with the fleeting immediacy of social media.
  • Based on the Forever Young Dance Party that happens monthly in the basement of the Ballentine Post 246 VFW in Uptown Minneapolis, the Forever Young Dance Installation at Northern Spark will be a freestanding room, decorated like the basement you danced in when your friend’s parents were out of town—a slice of home in Union Depot.
  • Co-create a giant sidewalk chalk board game in the street! Roll dice. Hop, twirl, squawk, recite, wiggle. Make up rules, build it bigger. The game will evolve throughout the night as players add to the board with their own instructions and alter routes and rules of play.