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Northern Spark art festival takes all-night gaming to a new dimension

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Architect Niko Kubota
Architect Niko Kubota stands in front of minni_polis, an interactive sculpture on the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Northern Spark will light up Minneapolis Saturday night. 

The annual festival, which runs from 9 p.m. Saturday until 5:26 a.m. Sunday, will feature some 70 different performances, installations and events at six different spots around the city. While the event is designed to get visitors involved, there is a special emphasis on games this year.

Northern Spark Associate Director Sarah Peters
Northern Spark Associate Director Sarah Peters holds up a T-shirt with the five words guiding this year's event.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The festival's associate director, Sarah Peters, has been involved in the event since the beginning.

"You know, I would say the theme this year is: We've turned five years old," she said.

While five is not the age of majority in human years, it does represent some maturity in the world of festivals. Based on the "nuit blanche" — or, "white night" — festival in Paris, Northern Spark is a sprawling event that presents artists in unusual spots and commissions work to reinterpret the world for a single night. 

Peters said festival planners asked people to describe the event in a single word, and then boiled the answers down to a list of five: "All night, wonder, wander, illuminate, together."

Peters says after five years of Northern Spark, she and her fellow organizers have learned some of the secrets to running a huge one-night event, and that includes the idea that it's not just about the art.  

"The festival is really obviously about the art and the artists, but it's very much about the people that come out to see that work together," she said. 

"There's a social component, a togetherness, that seems to be what motivates people to come, and keep coming back."

minni_polis, Convention Center Plaza

On the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza, that community has taken a physical form under the guidance of a local architect.

minni_polis
Each building in minni_polis is individually decorated.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

That's where Nikolai Isamu Kubota-Armin, who usually goes by Niko Kubota, has begun to construct his installation, minni_polis.

"The way I describe it to people is it's a 50-foot-wide miniature version of Minneapolis," he said, "but it's part real and part imagined."

The buildings range from about a foot and a half tall to taller than an adult. You can find the IDS building, the Foshay Tower and the Guthrie, but there's a myriad of other buildings built and decorated at community workshops, which, Kubota said, represent people's dreams and aspirations. Many of those buildings have questions painted on their roofs.

"We'll be providing chalk, and people can start writing on the black surfaces their ideas in response to these questions," he said. "And so we are hoping that a dialogue continues through the summer."

minni_polis will be unveiled at the opening of Northern Spark, but will remain downtown until October. It is sharing the opening — and the plaza — with what's likely to be a very popular event: a performance by Cloud Cult, beginning at 9 p.m. 

Peters said the concert will be one of the festival's must-see events. 

UCLA Game Lab, Peavey Plaza

She said she's also excited about events through the night just a few blocks away: "We will be transforming Peavey Plaza into an electronic playground."

The plaza and nearby Orchestra Hall will become the temporary home of the UCLA Game Lab.

Artist-designed video game consoles
Artist-designed video game consoles will be installed in the atrium of Orchestra Hall, where visitors can play unique artist designed games projected on the walls.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"You'll walk in and it will be like a video arcade but made by artists," she said. "So all strange games, nothing that you have seen before, nothing that you can rent at the video store down the street. All games that were made by these brilliant artists."

This includes a multi-layered game called "Vietnam Romance," which explores the impact of the Vietnam War. There will be games people can play on their phones, and for people looking for some physicality in their play, St. Paul's Can Can Wonderland team will present what they call Tron Human Foosball.  

If gaming isn't your style, Peters suggests heading to Mill City Park, where an installation by Luke Savisky will help visitors see themselves differently: "That will invite festivalgoers to be projected large," she said, "the most giant selfie you have ever taken, onto the grain silos."

Still/Life/Syria, Mill Ruins

The Mill Ruins will also be the site of a very different project called Still/Life/Syria, by Twin Cities based photographer Osama Esid. He photographed Syrian refugees in a camp in Turkey, images he's turned into a series of huge prints. 

"Five feet by six feet long," he said. "This will give you the feel of the situation of the refugees. The ruin, it's fantastic for that."

Esid hand-tints the pictures so they look like pastel drawings. He will also be taking pictures of Minnesotans during Northern Spark which he will take back to display in the camp. 

Northern Spark also has activities at the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Northrop Auditorium and the Weisman Art Museum.

If you go: Northern Spark

• When: Saturday, June 13 at 9 p.m. until Sunday, June 14 at 5:26 a.m.
• Where: All over Minneapolis

Sarah Peters says part of this year's plans resulted from the monsoon that pounded Northern Spark in 2014.

"What we learned last year is that  we had a good rain plan, but we did not have a deluge plan," she said.   

Now there is such a plan with alternate indoor venues for most of the outdoor activities. However with only occasional rain forecast, Peters says the plan is to forge on outside.

Correction (7:22 p.m.): The original version of this story misspelled minni_polis and Niko Kubota's name. The story has been updated.