MN Original’s Northern Spark journey

My name is Joel Zimmerman, and I’m a lifelong resident of the Twin Cities. I also work on MN Original as Production & Web Coordinator, but I bring up my Twin Cities-centric existence as a way of saying that I think I know the Twin Cities pretty well. But every once in a while, you encounter an experience that makes you look at your surroundings, even extremely familiar ones, in a different light. Northern Spark 2012 was just that event for me.

Northern Spark claims to be “an active celebration of the creativity of artists and the creative programming of cultural organizations.” The important distinction, though, is that all this celebrating happened overnight: from dusk on Saturday until dawn on Sunday morning. So when I say that Northern Spark allowed me to view Minneapolis’ creative output in a new light, that can be taken figuratively and literally! With over 100 projects at 30+ venues all across Minneapolis, my first Northern Spark experience was an amalgamation of music, summer, dance, parades, and a lot of shiny lights.

My evening started at the Stone Arch Bridge, where thousands of other eager Northern Spark participants joined me to view the official kick-off of the event: The Psychadelic Art Parade.  Featuring a 40-piece marching band in full costume, and a promenade with more LED lights than a Redwood-sized Christmas tree, the Psychedelic Art Parade lived up to its name and its billing as the inaugural event.


From the Stone Arch Bridge, I backtracked ever-so-slightly to The Minnesota Center for Books Arts (MCBA) on Washington Avenue, where I was able to try my luck at the Explorations In Non-Intention project. MCBA’s art installation utilized a pair of dice to guide its participants through the process of creating paper prints. There were no official winners in this game of chance, but I’m pretty proud of my final product.


Riding my streak of luck, I crossed the river to the St. Anthony Main & Main Street area, where I was deluged with a throng of creativity-seeking party people and creativity-inducing art installations, games, and projects. The Northern Spark folk were kind enough to let me and MN Original “take over” the Northern Spark Twitter account during my travels up Main Street, so I tried to pack in as many stops along Main Street as I could. Highlights included Asia Ward’s Body Pong project, where it seemed competitors spent as much time inadvertently high-fiving each other as they did in battle; the mesmerizing glow of Ben Johnson and Elizabeth Johnson’s PixelTron 150 arcade game; and the chilly lights of Michael Murnane’s Under Ice light projection on the Pillsbury A Mill.

I ended my Northern Spark journey at the Weisman Art Museum, where the darkness of 2:00 a.m. provided the perfect blank canvas for Diane Willow’s Tuning The Sky installation. Popping into the isolated light chambers at this installation was an experience that absolutely dazzled.


It can be easy to take for granted the things that are familiar to us, but Northern Spark provided an exploration of Minneapolis that was far from ordinary. In six short hours on Saturday night, I encountered new sights, sounds, and stimulation. That these experiences occurred in locations that I’ve visited frequently, and with thousands of other eager Northern Spark participants, added to the uniqueness of the night and transformed my perception of the place I call home.

For even more photos from Northern Spark, browse the flickr gallery at the top of the page!

Artist Day Jobs: Choreographer Denise Armstead Trains Dancers and Horses

Denise Armstead, founder of DA Dance, has always wanted to work with horses. Dance took priority for most of her career- but these days she balances training horses with choreography.

On Friday, Armstead’s passions all come together in the premiere of The Three Bonnies, a multimedia dance piece that combines horse footage, the blues, and dance to evoke stages of a relationship. The Three Bonnies will be performed at Burnsville Center for the Performing Arts on June 8 at 7:30 PM.

“Ixcatan” by Romantica

“You Promised Me” by Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps

Choreographer Deborah Jinza Thayer Hit by Car

Deborah Jinza Thayer, a local dancer/choreographer and recent MNO subject, was hit by a car while dining outside the Finnish Bistro on Sunday, June 3. MNO was notified of the accident by the Red Eye Theater where Deborah was set to perform her new solo work, Diana Takes a Swim, on June 14 – 17. According to the theater, Deborah suffered 4 cracked vertebrae and 2 cracked ribs, among other injuries.

We filmed an interview with Deborah and an excerpt of Diana Takes a Swim back in February, a piece which is currently in edit for a Fall 2012 premiere. It was a fascinating, energetic shoot and should make for an interesting look at her process.

We’re so saddened to hear of Deborah’s accident and wish her the speediest of recoveries!


Meet Your Maker: Kate McDonald, Associate Producer

MN Original creates 30 minutes of new arts coverage every week, a task made possible through the efforts of our staff of 15 employees. In an effort to pull back the curtain on the people behind MN Original, MNO On The Go introduces Associate Producer, Kate McDonald who was also recently featured on

What are you working on RIGHT NOW?
I was transcribing an interview with rapper Astronautalis, who shook up our studios with a fiercely talented performance last week. I must say that in addition to performing, the guy has a way with words, so keep an eye out for his interview airing on MNO this fall.

What does an Associate Producer do?
Well, usually we are the ones asking the questions (so this is weird). However, our job is split relatively equally between office work and field work. We spend a fair amount of our time in the office researching and contacting local artists before pitching them to the group of producers who make the final call on who we profile.

Pre-production begins once the artists are selected and then I work with a producer to coordinate the best way to showcase the artist’s work and process. We usually spend about a day with the artist, filming their work and interviewing them about their craft and creative process. Once the shoot is complete we come back to the office and I help collect and organize the different elements needed for the editing process.

What aspect of working in production has been the most surprising or unexpected to you?
Just how much time, effort and collaboration it takes to produce a weekly half hour series! Lucky for us we have an amazing team here at MN Original all of whom make it possible for the show to get onto the air every week.

You’ve acted as Associate Producer for all of MN Original‘s studio music shoots over the last two years, including the performance below from The Cactus Blossoms. Walk us through your duties throughout that day’s shoot.
Music week is the best. Even though my day starts at 7:30 a.m. I basically get to see two free concerts a day for an entire week.

Schedule goes a bit like this:

7:30 a.m.: Arrive and make sure the day’s schedule is out for the crew. Set up coffee and craft services for the first band.

8:00 a.m.: Crew for the day arrives. We usually have 10-12 people working on each music week (aside from the producers). The crew includes a floor director and three photographers in addition to lighting, photography and sound directors and assistants.

8:30 a.m.: The first band of the day arrives (at an ungodly time for anyone to perform). We load in instruments to Studio A and our sound engineers start setting up microphones. During this time the band gets to drink coffee, eat food, hang out, change, and sign paperwork.

9:00 a.m.: Band has sound check and then we reset cameras. We also use this time to give the musicians water if they need it and apply face powder and makeup, since it can get quite hot under those studio lights.

9:30 a.m.: Once we are set, producers file into the control room (where they can watch all the action happening) and the crew gets on headsets. The producer will use the three monitors in the control room (one for each camera), to call out shots during the performance.

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.: We ask musicians to preform two songs for us, and we usually run through each song at least 5-6 times so we can record all the different camera angles that we need. During this time it is up to me to take careful notes on what the producer, band, and the audio engineers thought of each take.

11:45 a.m.: We have a quick interview with the band and then rush to pack them up so we’ll be ready to record with the next band, who arrives just half an hour later. Then we do it all over again in the afternoon!

What is the most exciting part of working on MNO?
The most exciting part of working on MN Original is all the awesome artists that I get to meet on a daily basis. Also since part of my job is knowing about the art related events going on in town, I find that I always have something to do on the weekends for research. Definitely not a bad perk of the job.

It can’t all be fun and games. Tell us about some of the less savory parts of AP work.
There are so many little details that need to be kept straight for each segment. I spend way too much time thinking about whether or not a band meant to misspell the title of their song they performed for us. Sometimes it feels like they must be doing it on purpose because they know I am mildly dyslexic!

You recently spent a great deal of time in a hearse for an MN Original shoot. Can you explain more of what that experience entailed?
Apparently hearses come in handy in a variety of art mediums. Rumor has it they are especially great for hauling band equipment, but the reason I was in one last month was for a segment I was doing on the ridiculously talented sculptor, Michael Thomsen. He uses a hearse to transport his large assemblage sculptures, created out of antique objects and furniture that he picks up all over the city. Make sure you keep an eye out for him around town – he recently redid the hearse’s inside fringe.

What’s your favorite TV show (aside from MNO of course)?
My PBS faves include Art21 and Downton Abbey. However in order to eliminate all sense of professionalism I have built up in your minds during the course of this interview I will also admit I recently have made a guilty pleasure out of watching singing competition shows, in particular The Voice. Sometimes you can’t deny talent, no matter what form it takes. Also I can’t get enough of the interview cutaways of Cee-Lo petting his Turkish Angora Cat. It’s no MN Original but it’s pretty priceless.

This Week at MNO

Ever wondered what challenges are associated with mounting a play in the round? Team Blahnik did and found all the answers one could want over at Theatre in the Round. They’re currently mounting Agatha Christie’s The Hollow as part of their 60th season and MNO was there for a dress rehearsal earlier this week. In town this weekend? Head on over to Theatre in the Round and see the show!

MPR’s Art Hounds makes mention of photographer Michael Crouser’s exhibition at the Minneapolis Photo Center and we couldn’t agree more – Team Melin filmed with Crouser at the center this week, one of two shoots with the photographer. With this final footage in hand the piece will get into line for edit!

Team Blahnik capped off the week with Greg Bellanger, a Native American artist currently at work beading a black velvet tulip bag. Bellanger was recently part of the All My Relations Mni Sota: Reflections of Time and Place exhibit and wowed us with his passion for his work.

Links we love today: 

Hong Seon Jang’s Type City

MNO’s own Kate McDonald on


Bubblegum Installation by Merijn Hos & Renée Reijnders

In Whittier, the Difference A Little Art Can Make

The Whittier neighborhood has been looking a little differently-fewer unkempt storefronts, and more, well, mannequins covered in full-body glass mosaics. It’s all part of Joan Vorderbruggen’s Artists in Storefronts project, which began April 27 and ends in early June. Commissioning local artists of all kinds, Vorderbruggen has turned vacant or under-used storefronts in the Whittier neighborhood into vibrant, engaging spaces showcasing original work by Twin Cities artists. Check out the slideshow below for a before/after of some of the storefronts, and read on for a Q and A with the project’s mastermind.

MNO: How did you get the idea for Artists in Storefronts?

Joan Vorderbruggen: I’m a freelance storefront designer. And I was inspired by Wing Young Huie‘s University Ave project. Last fall I thought I’d do storefront design on an entire city block. I thought I’d do it in a declining business area, to increase foot traffic. I pitched that around and it didn’t really grab anyone’s attention. So I started doing more research and I found storefront projects on either coast-really long-standing projects. I realized it would make so much more sense to approach it like a group show-to create a sort of urban walking gallery….When I created a proposal and pitched it to the Whittier Alliance, Marian Biehn, the executive director, her jaw hit the floor- they had just created a database of all of their vacant storefronts on the Eat Street corridor.

MNO: What’s the goal of the project?

JV: It’s a benefit-all strategy on every level. First, it acts as a free staging service for all those commercial property owners. We took tired, sad, dirty, properties with broken blinds and plastered with for-rent signs, and by cleaning then up, we beautified them. So people are looking at that instead of something that looks like it needs a lot of work. That inspires ideas for potential creative entrepreneurs and potential retailers. Also, some of these artists have exhibition histories, some don’t- so this offers an incredible amount of exposure for an artist, to a demographic that doesn’t always get into museums or galleries.

MNO: How did you get permission to use the storefronts?

JV: That part was very difficult. There are quite a number of commercial properties that are in the process of foreclosure, and in that instance there’s no ownership to peg down. Somebody who’s losing their property wouldn’t be vested in making it more appealing for a bank to swallow up. I’m hoping real estate agents will see this as an incredible benefit to them, in terms of how to deal with foreclosed properties. According to Storefronts Seattle project, businesses with art in their storefronts lease 50 percent faster.

And we did have a way to include the properties that didn’t respond or responded with a no. We’re doing the “I Wish This Was” sticker project with artist Candy Chang. The stickers look like “Hello My Name Is” stickers-they’re vinyl, and there’s no residue. People can stop and look at the storefront, and think about what they would want to go there.

MNO: What have you been surprised by?

JV: I’ve been a little disappointed in my moss mural [on the north side of Rainbow Chinese Restaurant], but  I’m going to keep at it. We put it up a little too soon, but then suddenly May was chilly, so it hasn’t been thriving or growing. I’m going to go after it again. I had a local journalist and friend of mine write a bunch of things we could use for the moss graffiti and she came up with “Everyone Together Different.” It’s a beautiful message. We’re very different from each other but we’re all spinning on the same rock. So I’m going to get that sucker to grow. I have to water it every day with a sprayer of buttermilk and water. It’s either going to be a $200 fail or a million dollar win.

MNO: What unexpected challenges have there been?

JV: I do most of my storefront installations pretty independently, so I thought “Oh I can do this, it won’t be too challenging,” but that was not the case. There is no way this would have been pulled off without my husband’s assistance-he’s an art handler. There is a science to hanging things properly. There literally is an equation. I mean, it’s Math. I hadn’t planned on relying on him so much.

MNO: What’s next with the project?

JV: Well, we weren’t able to really support the artists this time, aside from installation assistance and hardware and lighting. I’d like to be able to offer stipends for artists to participate-beautification stipends. Also, I’ve launched a Kickstarter project to expand the project to include Lyndale and points on Franklin.

This Week at MNO

This was a HUGE week at MNO. Music Week comes around about four times a year and each one seems to be bigger than the last. As mentioned in  the MNO newsletter that went out this week (Not subscribed? Don’t miss another edition – sign up on the right!), we had a total of 7 bands come through tpt‘s Studio A in 4 days, each one with its own look and sound and considerations: The Narayan Sisters, the SocaHolix, The Shiny Lights, Alicia Wiley, Rhythmic Circus, Alpha Consumer and Astronautalis. It’s an absolutel whirlwind that requires all hands on deck and is so very different from our normal mode of operation. Check out some photos from the week below:

A typical MNO shoot is actually pretty small and self contained – we travel with a Producer, an Associate Producer and a Director of Photography  and that tends to be it. If there’s more than one person speaking at a time, we’ll add an Audio Engineer to the mix. Music Week, on the other hand, involves 3 Camera Operators, 2 Audio Engineers, 1 Lighting Designer and 2 Lighting Assists, 1 Production Assistant, 1 or 2 Associate Producers, and 1 Producer. This week was so big that we split the 7 bands across 3 Producers. It’s a big production and it’s absolutely thrilling.

Despite the way it may sound, there is plenty going on outside of Music Week at the MNO headquarters: our editors are churning out new pieces and completed shows and anyone not working in the studio is hard at work setting up whatever comes next. MN Original is definitely a team effort.

In other news, don’t forget that Art-A-Whirl is this weekend! We caught up with some MNO Alumni to learn what they’re working on now and what they’re looking forward to about the nation’s largest art crawl. Read more here.

Links we love today:

Exploring Abandoned Ellis Island

The Eagleman Stag

Slow Motion Eye Candy (don’t try this at home)

I want to ride this train.

Where Are They Now?: Art-A-Whirl Edition

This weekend marks the 17th Annual Art-A-Whirl, where artists, studios, and galleries across Northeast Minneapolis open their doors to the public. Organized by the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), Art-A-Whirl is the largest open-studio tour in the country, with 400+ artists showing their work in over 50 locations. Throughout MN Original‘s three seasons, we’ve profiled a number of NEMAA artists who have helped make Northeast Minneapolis into a thriving arts community, including: Michael Schmidt, Britta Kaupilla, Laura Hallen, Kristen Arden, and J. M. Culver. We reconnected with these artists to find out what they’ve been up to since appearing on MN Original, and what they’re looking forward to at this year’s Art-A-Whirl.

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Paper Darts

When Jamie Millard and Meghan Murphy graduated from college in the Spring of 2009, their hopes of launching careers in the Twin Cities publishing industry were thwarted by a difficult economy. Their response was to create Paper Darts, a literary arts magazine that combines poetry, prose and design in ways that the local literary arts scene had never seen before.

Paper Darts is renowned for holding live events more reminiscent of a rock concert than an evening at the library. MNO On The Go attended their recent Super Super Tuesday to witness the magic unfold firsthand with guest reader/performer John Jodzio.

Special Thanks:
Nomad World Pub

Paper Darts
John Jodzio

This Week at MNO

MNO shoots this week were all over the map, with Team Melin capturing woodworking with Cecilia Schiller, painter and MNO alumni Caitlin Karolczak sitting for figural painter Luke Hillestad and Cave Paper installing their work at the Grain Belt Bottling House. Team Blahnik is back from vacation and got physical with the movers of Black Label Movement and then a little more introspective with poet Wang Ping along the Mississippi. And Team Rowe finished up their field work on violinist Chad Hoopes with an interview over at MPR. In the midst of all this production, we’ve also been prepping for next week’s studio week. The fun just doesn’t stop around here and that’s something we’re thankful for every day!


We’re also now on Instagram, populated primarily with behind the scenes action from our Director of Photography Dan Huiting. Follow ‘mnoriginal’ to see where Dan’s going to put a Go Pro next.

Treat your mother to a new episode of MNO on Sunday, May 13, featuring TU Dance and their new dance center, Kyle Fokken’s unique hybrid sculptures, the Mni Sota: Reflections of Time and Place exhibit curated by Native American artist Dyani-Reynolds Whitehawk and music from Joey Ryan and the Inks. Click here for a sneak peak and join us at 6pm on Twitter, #mnoriginal!

Links we love today:

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #15: The Head and the Heart

On being an artist and a mother (local)

I Self Devine – Exist to Remain (local)

Rest in peace, Maurice Sendak

Overheard in preproduction: “Hide it in the cowbell.”

TwitChat Recap: MNO #316

Every Sunday during airings of new episodes of MN Original, we host live Twitter chats from our perch in Twitter land with artists, viewers, and well, anyone, to talk about the show — live as it airs!

Click on the thumbnail below to read the recap from last night’s episode of MN Original, in which spoken word artist Guante joined us from the road, painter Christina Habibi talks about her love of textures, and sculptor Asia Ward shows off the coolest nightlight we’ve ever seen.

TwitChat Recap: MNO #315

Every Sunday during airings of new episodes of MN Original, we host live Twitter chats from our perch in Twitter land with artists, viewers, and well, anyone, to talk about the show — live as it airs!

Click on the thumbnail below to read the recap from last night’s episode of MN Original, in which the Director of Marketing for choral music ensemble, VocalEssence, chats with us about the group’s rehearsal routines, and musician Willie Wisely joins us from across the sea while on tour in Japan.