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Northern Spark 2019 theme is ‘We Are Here’; Nirmala Rajasekar album release at the Cedar

ALSO: TU Dance 15th Anniversary Fall Concert at the Ordway; Hailu Mergia at the Cedar; and more.

Northern Spark
The theme for Northern Spark 2019 is “We Are Here.”

One way to understand where Northern Spark is heading is by looking back at where it’s been. Year to year, the only sure thing is it will change, sometimes profoundly.

For the first seven years, inspired by Europe’s “Nuit Blanche” nighttime arts festivals, Northern Spark was one night, all night, dusk to dawn. In 2018, it switched to two nights, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. That’s where it will stay for 2019.

Over the years, Northern Spark has taken place in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, just Minneapolis, just St. Paul, along the Minneapolis riverfront, in the Minneapolis metro – and in 2017, in seven neighborhoods along the Green Line, from the Commons to Lowertown. In 2018, it was back in downtown Minneapolis on the Commons, in the Minneapolis Central Library and along Nicollet Mall. The theme that year was “Commonality.”

Announced late last week, the theme for 2019 is “We Are Here.” On June 14 and 15, the festival will move into places where those words have special, hard-fought meaning: St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis. It’s also back on the Commons, which will be, for the second year, the site of the latest Creative City Challenge winner. (See below for more about that.)

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The subthemes for “We Are Here” are Resilience, Renewal and Regeneration. The theme and subthemes are meant to push artists’ creativity around cultural and societal issues.

The Open Call for artist projects starts soon, with opportunities for participatory installations, staged performances and screenings. This year, Northern Spark will offer a new series of three free workshops to help artists figure out how to fit their work into the festival’s context. The workshops are “Brainstorming and Vision” (Nov. 1), “Crafting a Pitch” (Dec. 1), and “Project Realization” (Dec. 11). Go here to learn more and register.

Photo by Christopher Stiche
“Carry On Homes,” the 2018 Creative City Challenge winner
The really big Northern Spark-related project, to be unveiled and featured at the opening of the festival, is the Creative City Challenge, a temporary, destination artwork on the Commons that acts as a sociable, participatory platform for four months. It’s a major installation. Three finalists will each receive $2,500 to create full proposals. The winning proposal will receive a $50,000 commission to execute the project. The Creative City Challenge 2019 must also relate to the “We Are Here” theme and subthemes. View the full Open Call here.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 24) at the Showplace Icon: “Who Will Write Our History?” The Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival has partnered with the Twin Cities Film Fest. Among the films to be shown this year is Robert Grossman’s feature documentary about Jewish journalists, scholars and community leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto who created the Oyneg Shabes-Ringelblum Archive, which has been called “perhaps the most important collection of original material compiled by Jews during the Holocaust.” The film features the voices of Joan Allen and Adrian Brody. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12).

Thursday at Jazz Central Studios: Ben Rosenblum. If you’re a fan of classic jazz piano – melodic, emotional, technically masterful and swinging – catch New York-based Rosenblum while he’s in town. Just 24, he started winning awards in 2010, graduated from Columbia-Juilliard in 2016 and released his debut album, “Instead,” in 2017. His second, “River City,” came out in 2018. He’s not wasting any time. Rosenblum will be at Jazz Central with bassist Jeremy Boettcher and drummer Peter Johnson. FMI. 8 p.m., $10 at the door. On Sunday, you can find him at the Ted Mann in “The Call,” a free concert with U of M singers, countertenor Ryland Angel (with whom he has worked on several projects) and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. 4 p.m. FMI.

Friday at the Cedar: Hailu Mergia. In March of this year, the Guardian published an interview with “the Ethiopian jazz legend who jams in his taxi.” Keyboardist Mergia and his band ruled Ethiopia’s nightclub scene in the 1970s. In 1981, they came to the U.S. for a tour that proved disappointing. Some band members went home; others stayed. Living and driving taxi in Washington, D.C., Mergia faded into obscurity. The 2013 reissue of a 1985 album led to tours of the U.S. and Europe. In early 2018, Mergia released “Lala Belu,” his first new full-length album in two decades. Now 71, he’s enjoying a career resurgence that will include this appearance at the Cedar, co-presented by the Walker’s Performing Arts Series, a badge of coolness and contemporary relevance. Minnesota’s own Yonathan’s Cultural Show will open. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8. FMI and tickets ($25/20).

Saturday at the Ordway: TU Dance 15th Anniversary Fall Concert. The St. Paul dance company founded by former Alvin Ailey dancers Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands is having a very good year: four sold-out shows with Bon Iver at the Palace, then another at the Hollywood Bowl. Their fall concert will include a new retrospective work that reflects on the company’s repertoire; “Salve” (2017), about human connections and healing; and “With Love” (2011), inspired by the paintings of African American artist Ernie Barnes and set to the music of Donny Hathaway. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($42-22).

Nirmala Rajasekar
Courtesy of the artist
A master of Carnatic music and a virtuoso on the veena, performer Nirmala Rajasekar has lived in Minnesota for more than 20 years.
Sunday at the Cedar: Nirmala Rajasekar: “Maithree: The Music of Friendship” album release. A master of Carnatic music and a virtuoso on the veena (a plucked string instrument), composer, performer and educator Rajasekar has lived in Minnesota for more than 20 years. As the title of her new album suggests, this is music played among friends. Featuring South Indian drum guru Boopathi, cellist Michelle Kinney, brothers Pat (clarinet) and Tim O’Keefe (world percussion), it’s warm, joyous and upbeat. The songs include originals and new arrangements of Indian, Irish and Turkish tunes. The title track dates from a 1966 concert at the United Nations, its message one of world peace and friendship across borders. All ages. Doors at 2 p.m., show at 3. FMI and tickets ($12 advance, $15 day of show).