Another all-nighter

Last June, Northern Spark promised the Twin Cities its first European-style nuit blanche, or “white night” festival, and what did we get?

As it neared 2 a.m., the view from the open-air observation deck 30 stories up the historic Foshay Tower was of a night sky dyed orange from streetlights and of darkened skyscrapers speckled fluorescent green where the lights still glowed in empty offices. A giddy crowd watched red taillights stream down Interstate-94 and saw the sleepy neighborhoods beyond spangled with white porch lights left burning through the night.

It was one of many magical moments from last year’s all-night art festival, and even at that late hour, when bars and clubs were pushing patrons out the door, revelers gladly joined the long line in the Foshay lobby, content to wait 30 minutes or more just to experience that view. Yes, there was an art installation up there, too — a sound collage of Twin Cities radio stations — but glittering Minneapolis stole the show.

Over 20,000 people participated in that first-ever Northern Spark festival, packing the Stone Arch Bridge during the opening ceremony at dusk and then fanning out across Minneapolis and St. Paul to visit as many of the 100 art projects as they could before dawn — or sleep — brought their white nights to a close. 

This year, the nuit blanche that kicks off at dusk June 9 won’t be quite as sprawling. Due to scheduling conflicts with events planned for St. Paul, all of this year’s art projects will take place within five zones in Minneapolis: downtown; the area around the Stone Arch Bridge; the University of Minnesota campus; the Walker Art Center campus; and parts of south and southwest around the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Midtown Greenway.

Northern Spark spokesperson Tom Loftus said festival organizers are planning a big return to St. Paul in 2013, but in the meantime it means our city will be even more densely packed with art projects this year: The slightly expanded festival schedule includes 120 projects by about 200 participating artists.

Planning ahead is essential to make the most of the festival. The festival website ( lists projects by artist name, time and location, and includes interactive maps to help design a personalized after-dark excursion. Northern Spark also plans to make a smart phone app with maps and project information available for download before the festival, Loftus said.

Organizers are also trying to boost the festival’s social media profile, offering new ways for participants to interact via Twitter and even win prizes for tweeting about the festival — including a pass to the front of that long, long Foshay Tower line. The idea is to use social media for real-time feedback from patrons on the night’s best events.

“It will give festival-goers a sense of what projects are really trending,” Loftus said. 

A survey of last year’s festival-goers indicated nearly one-third of them traveled that night by bicycle, and organizers aim to boost their numbers this year by promoting their partnership with Nice Ride, the city’s bike-sharing system. Most festival events are within easy walking distance of Nice Ride stations.

Last year, only a couple of mobile food vendors set up for the night, and where they did the lines were discouragingly long. This year, at least 10 food trucks will spread out across the festival to satisfy late-night cravings.

Northern Spark is free and open to the public, so there’s no need to wait for an invitation, but festival organizers are planning to issue one, anyway. Starting June 2, the phrase “think and wonder, wonder and think” — the theme of this year’s festival — will be illuminated in 8-foot-tall letters on the Stone Arch Bridge.

“It will be sort of like our Bat-Signal to the Twin Cities,” Loftus said.