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You are browsing an archived site for a previous Northern Spark event. To visit the current site click here.


Key Information

Northern Spark

  • June 11, 2016
  • 9pm-5:26am
  • Minneapolis
  • Free

Northern Spark by the
numbers 2011-2015:

  • 494 artist projects in 117 venues
  • 188,000 attendees
  • More than 1391 local and national artists and performers
  • 230 cultural organization partners
  • 388,248 website visits by 268,480 unique visitors
  • 1 night
  • 2.5 billion gallons of rain in 476 minutes (2014)


Climate Chaos | Climate Rising

365 Days, Two Nights


Northern Spark is a free, annual, dusk-to-dawn, multidisciplinary arts festival that takes place on the second Saturday of June in the Twin Cities and draws tens of thousands of Minnesotans each year. For the 2016 and 2017 festivals, the theme Climate Chaos | Climate Rising will explore the interconnected, evolving, long-term consequences from climate change, giving local and national artists a platform to help turn a sense of overwhelmment into concrete actions anchored in a realistic and hopeful map for the future.

Northern Spark is presented by Northern, a nonprofit arts organization with the mission to transform our sense of what’s possible in public space. Northern shines throughout the year with projects such as the Giant Sing-a-long at the Minnesota State Fair, Art(ists) On the Verge, and permanent, interactive public art for Saint Paul Union Depot.


Northern announces two years of artists addressing global climate change: Northern Spark 2016 (June 11) through Northern Spark 2017 (June 10). Under the united theme Climate Chaos | Climate Rising, these two incredible nights of art focused on Earth’s changing environment will be connected by interactive projects, events and workshops in sites across the Twin Cities, each exploring how artists grapple with and envision new approaches to the climate challenges we face globally.

From industrialized C02 production to extreme weather events, sea levels rising to water tables dropping, massive migrations and a sixth extinction, climate change seems to imbue every aspect of daily life with the threat of chaos.

We believe, however, that climate change is so much more than the science and even so much more than the critical actions that must be taken to mitigate the worst-case scenarios of rising temperatures. Climate change fundamentally challenges us to think about and act upon what it means to be human.

Over the next two years Northern Spark takes on this challenge through the lenses of migration, nourishment, interconnectedness, perception and civic action. Our programming begins in winter of 2016 by delving into issues such as the future of food, new relationships to non-human species, and radical river ecologies, and culminates in the summer of 2017 in the biggest Northern Spark yet, with innovative, interactive art projects filling the landscape along the Green Line—from Minneapolis through the neighborhoods of St. Paul to its terminus in Lowertown.

On JUNE 11, 2016, Northern Spark will ignite our theme with an immersive, thought-provoking art festival, workshops, and lectures on urgent questions around the future of Earth’s environment.

At dusk the festival will open at the Minneapolis Convention Center with the unveiling of the newest winner of the Creative City Challenge. The festival will continue all night long in Minneapolis’s Mill District as audiences explore climate topics—Move, Nourish, Interconnect, Perceive, Act—through giant video projections,  performances and installations in the streets, and in green spaces and under bridges along the waterfront. Food trucks will offer snacks and drinks throughout the night and audiences can relax in a specially commissioned “chill” conversation space constructed out of ice harvested from Minnesota lakes during the winter.

In addition to the festival’s participatory artist projects, we’re adding a night-time track of inspiring talks by climate scientists, policy wonks, visionary engineers, political activists, and artists, as well as activities and workshops for audiences to further participate in.

On JUNE 10, 2017, Northern Spark 2017 will be the biggest, boldest, most exciting festival yet, with art projects responding to climate change spanning the Green Line transit corridor from downtown Minneapolis to Lowertown St Paul. From sunset to sunrise, artist-led and community-driven projects will flourish in neighborhoods along the Green Line, some marking the culmination of 18 months of community-hosted artist residencies and public-driven project collaborations. Northern Spark 2017 will bring internationally-known artists to Minnesota and create opportunities for local artists and organizations to participate with their own projects. Thousands of Minnesotans will participate in and be inspired by a dazzling variety of innovative projects that open up fresh possibilities and new ways of thinking about climate change, immersed in an urban mass-transit landscape spanning two cities.

During the year between festivals, our theme Climate Chaos | Climate Rising will continue to shape our programming. Community conversations over artist-designed meals, a climate film series, a climate change reading group, an online platform for sharing texts and ideas, “get your hands dirty” workshops, and community involvement days with artists developing projects for Northern Spark: these are just some of the programs we’ve got brewing between festivals. We’re already at work developing projects that explore how people and places experience climate change. These projects will be presented at sites throughout the Twin Cities, and produced in collaboration with community organizations along the Green Line, arts organizations and universities from around the Twin Cities. We’re also working with a team of art and science colleagues at the University of Minnesota to create a class on “Climate Change, Art and Science,” leading to a class project at Northern Spark.

To support a deep and significant arts engagement with our theme, we’re organizing a Climate Chaos | Climate Rising Advisory Committee, including local and international scientists, advocates and artists.  We’re also convening a Northern Spark Programming Council comprised of members from communities and organizations along the Green Line with whom we’ll collaborate to select artist projects, identify festival sites and create partnerships in the Green Line neighborhoods.

We are grateful to acknowledge support for Climate Chaos | Climate Rising from several sources. Funding for Northern Spark is generously provided by The Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, corporate sponsors, and contributions from individuals in our community. Support for Northern Spark 2017 along the Green Line is provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Marina Zurkow’s project on the future of food in our region, Making the Best of It: The North is funded by an award from The National Endowment for the Arts – Art Works.


Why focus on climate change? People need facts to make informed decisions, but it is stories and culture that change people’s minds—and behavior. Artists create connection points to issues that may seem tired or impossibly contentious. We follow them in through beauty, wonder, and curiosity and quickly find ourselves engaged in a complex issue seen differently.

The historic rains at Northern Spark in 2014 became a reality check about the ways that climate can affect our work very directly, but our primary motivation comes from following the work of countless artists over the past decades who have dived deep into the science and human experience of global climate change to create memorable and provocative art.

Northern Spark is a fluid, ever-evolving platform for artistic innovation and creativity in public space. Each year we draw together the diverse voices and concerns of our communities to create a festival of aspirations, inspirations and wonderment for the entire city to experience. We do this because:

Art leads to new ideas

Art inspires hope

Art motivates action

Art connects us

With a two-year commitment to focus on these issues, Northern brings excitement, inspiration and creativity to an issue that can at times feel impossible to solve. Our work has always been to bring people together to experience awe-inspiring art projects. With Climate Chaos | Climate Rising as our focus, we intend to knit together project collaborations between artists, activists, scientists, neighborhoods and environmental organizations that will last beyond Northern Spark. And we’re bringing artists’ voices and visions for climate change action into public space, where we can all benefit from the new ideas and energy they can give us.