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Sparking climate engagement through art and community

Community (Image 1 of 14)

More than 34,000 people attended the 2016 festival, which took place June 11 from 9:00 p.m. to 5:26 a.m. in the Minneapolis Convention Center and Minneapolis Mill District.

Energeia (Image 2 of 14)

“Dr. Spark” speaks to a gathering about the many forms of energy at this hands-on science fair / theatrical performance that challenges participants to take a closer look at their own energy consumption.

Artist: Roger Nieboer

The Illuminated Reef (Image 3 of 14)

LED-lit lanterns, blacklights and fluorescent paints bring to life a vibrant coral reef teeming with biodiversity. Visitors were invited to carry lanterns in a crowd-sourced production.

Artists: Illuminated Reef Collective (Peter Schulze, Tara Fahey, Janet Groenert, Mina Leierwood and the BareBones Productions community)

Backyard Phenology: Tracking Nature’s Cycles in a Changing Climate (Image 4 of 14)

Attendees record their observations and perceptions about our changing climate inside the Climate Chaser Mobile Lab. Through a series of workshops over the next year, the public will be encouraged to share images and audio recordings to an online “notebook” for inclusion in a multimedia installation to be presented at Northern Spark 2017.

Artist: Christin Baeumler (with scientists Rebecca Montgomery, Nicholas Jordan, Kate Flick and Beth Mercer-Taylor)

Ice Fall – Feel the Change (Image 5 of 14)

Participants recline on a moving surface intended to mimic the feel of glacial calving — ice chunks breaking off from the edge of a glacier.

Artists: Joshua McGarvey and Heckadecimal

Wishing Well (Image 6 of 14)

Real coins, where every cent represents 350 tons of carbon to be burned worldwide during the eight hours of the festival, fill the well. Visitors were given the choice of whether to extract the money or leave it in the ground as a wish for our planet’s future.

Artist: Robin Garwood

Then a Cunning Voice and a Night We Spent Gazing at Stars (Image 7 of 14)

“What do you want for your well-being? For your family and friends? Your neighborhood? Your city, town, or reserve?” Participants write their intentions on quilt squares as a contribution to this all-night Community Sewing Bee, which included moments of silence, performance and storytelling.

Artists: Emily Johnson and Maggie Thompson

Game Bar (Image 8 of 14)

An attendee plays on a mobile arcade style machine — part of a collection of games from around world that explore the issue of climate change.

Presented by GLITCH; curated by Evva Kraikul and Tyler Stefanich

Surrender: What are We Willing to Lose? (Image 9 of 14)

Festival-goers literally and symbolically raise the white flag of surrender to climate change; and in dual meaning, are challenged to answer the question: “What am I willing to surrender to fight climate change?”

Artists: Students from the Making Sense of Climate Change: Art, Science and Agency course at the University of Minnesota (Mikaela Buscher, Olivia Caringi, Xavier Tavera Castro, Claire Forsman, Lewis French, Ricardo Bennett-Guzman, Theresa Hunt, Lisha Kirpalani, Nathan Michielson, Gloria Mueller, Reb Limerick, Maleena Patel, Alex Peterson, Jacob Rorem, Kyle Samejima, Nels Shafer and Joseph Whitson)

Soil Lab (Image 10 of 14)

A local map is flagged with lead and pH levels of soil samples submitted by the public. This is the first large-scale mapping of urban soils in the Twin Cities — launching a year-long collection of data to culminate at Northern Spark 2017.

Artists: Monica Haller and Sebastian Muellauer (with scientist Nic Jelinski)

Blessing the Boats (Image 11 of 14)

Poetry and music from Twin Cities immigrant communities shines a light on the growing refugee crisis and its relationship to climate change, while visitors are invited to set their own message afloat in a folded paper boat.

Artists: Cedarside 2016 coalition led by Muna Ahmed

Afterglow Garden (Image 12 of 14)

Glowing botanicals juxtapose our present with an imagined future of plants and fungi forced to adapt to the possible effects of climate change. The display surrounded a “greenhouse time capsule” filled with herbs, moss, succulents and flowers of the past.

Artists: <jɑː↓> (Allison Osberg and Jordan Olsen)

The Night Library (Image 13 of 14)

Electricity generated by pedaling bicycles lights up the exhibit sign. At this interactive installation, visitors worked together to “save the world” through puzzles, storytelling and theater.

Artists: Jon Mac Cole, Olli Johnson, David Pisa, Nico Swenson, Michael Torsch, Rhiana Yazzie (with Hennepin County Library staff)

Finale (Image 14 of 14)

Lightning strikes over Mill Ruins Park as dawn nears — marking the close of the 2016 festival.


Can art and spectacle raise awareness of climate change? Organizers of a yearly gathering in Minneapolis hope so.

The recent 6th annual Northern Spark, a free dusk-to-dawn multidisciplinary arts festival, challenged artists to lend their voices and visions to the conversation through the exploration of five concepts — Move, Nourish, Interconnect, Perceive and Act — as they relate to the 2016/2017 theme: Climate Chaos | Climate Rising.

The overnight event provided a unique perspective on Earth’s changing environment via 43 interactive art installations including a fluorescent black light coral reef, a reclining wall mimicking the feel of glacial calving and opportunities to share personal intentions related to the environment by white flag, quilt square or paper boat. The festival also featured talks and workshops presented by scientists, researchers, engineers and activists.

“Facts are necessary to establish a certain context. Concerted action is necessary to make systemic changes,” explained Northern Spark founder and art director Steve Dietz during the festival’s opening ceremony. “But it is culture and art that help us feel, not just understand, how what we do today will have true consequences 100 years from now; how what we do here will have true consequences on the other side of the world, downstream, out of sight. In other words, what art can do so well — help make the invisible not only visible but palpable.”

If you missed this year’s event, fear not. Northern Spark’s climate theme will return to Minneapolis (and expand into Saint Paul) on June 10, 2017. And the climate will likely still be changing next year, too. View Ensia homepage

Jeff Schad seeks to make the ordinary extraordinary. To see more of his photography, follow him at instagram.com/jeffschadimagery.

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