The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Dec 16, 2013

"New rules" for public art, Northern Spark and making invisible cities

Posted by sschouweiler

Stephen Nova, "Invisible Cities III." Image courtesy of the website for Melbourne, Australia art space, fortyfivedownstairs

There’s a blog post I’ve noticed circulating through various social media feeds in the past few days: “The New Rules of Public Art,” as articulated by the team at Situations, an arts organization based in Bristol, U.K.  It’s  a list of 12 social practice-friendly dictums like: “It doesn’t have to look like public art;” “Don’t make it for a community. Create a community;” "It's not forever;" and “Don’t embellish, interrupt.”

Reading through their "rules," I’m struck by the prescience of St. Paul’s approach to cultural development, specifically the manifold “upstream” public art efforts of (Knight Arts grantee) Public Art Saint Paul and its team of City-Artists-In-Residence led by Marcus Young. Or, what about the ambitious, public/private coalition behind the creative placemaking ventures of Irrigate? And you can’t talk about Twin Cities civic cultural innovations without mentioning Northern Spark, our roving, annual, all-night public arts festival.

Speaking of which, Northern (the parent organization for Northern Spark) just opened two calls for artists’ proposals for the 2014 iteration of the festival. Next year’s nuit blanche-style event will be themed around “Projecting the City” – inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel, “Invisible Cities.”

In the call for artists, festival organizers cite this quote from Calvino:

The Great Kahn contemplates an empire covered with cities that weigh upon the earth and upon mankind, crammed with wealth and traffic, overladen with ornaments and offices, complicated with mechanisms and hierarchies, swollen, tense, ponderous. ‘The empire is being crushed by its own weight,’ Kublai thinks, and in his dreams, cities as light as kites appear, pierced like laces, cities transparent as mosquito netting, cities like leaves’ veins, cities lined like a hand’s palm, filigree cities to be seen through their opaque and fictitious thickness.
The text of the call continues, reading:
Metaphorically—but no longer just metaphorically—we dream of something more for our cities. Not something planned and canned, like another confectionery spectacle, but something that can respond to our dreams. Something that will transform with us, not just perform change on us, like an operation.
To this end, the Northern Spark team is issuing not just a call for artists’ public art happenings and multimedia installation works, they’re also specifically and separately inviting proposals for projection projects. It's an experiment in line with their mission to "see the city in a new light" — a trial run that aims to create, for one night via projections all over town, something like the gossamer cities of Calvino’s dreams against the concrete, metal and glass of the urban landscape. The text of the call clarifies: “This does not mean that we can produce the ‘Bay Lights in Minneapolis’ for you, but we do intend to provide reasonably required projection equipment, electricity, and other support infrastructure.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to propose a project for this summer’s Northern Spark festival, there’s an information session this evening, 6 p.m. at the Third Place Gallery, 3730 Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis. There are two calls for artists this year: one for projects in any medium and another call for projection projects, in particular. Find links and additional information on all things Northern Spark 2014 on the website. Northern Spark is slated to take place in Minneapolis this year, from dusk on June 14 to dawn June 15, 2014.

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