Sparks of creativity fly in Raleigh, from serious to silly

CorrespondentSeptember 15, 2013 

— Although each participant walked away from Stacey Kirby’s SPARKcon exhibit validated as a member of the community, Kirby made her point: It’s not always that way in the real world.

Kirby’s interactive performance, called VALIDnation, allowed people to “participate in the art itself” and was one of hundreds of creative expressions showcased through SPARKcon, an interdisciplinary creativity, art and design festival held in downtown Raleigh from Thursday to Sunday.

Kirby invited people to fill out a card with a self-description and a response to recent legislation passed by the state. She would then review the response and play the role of a “civil validation officer.” Kirby sends the filled-out cards to representatives. “I’m basically making the street the stage,” Kirby said.

This year’s eighth-annual SPARKcon drew in 2,000 local artists and performers and featured 200 events, each of which fell under creative themes, or SPARKS. The themes included art, music, film, fashion and circus. Sarah Powers, executive director of the Visual Art Exchange, which produces SPARKcon, estimated that the festival’s turnout at least matched, if not surpassed, last years total of 35,000 people.

“We’re calling it an explosion of creativity since it’s such a broad event encompassing so many different kinds of art and so many talents,” Powers said. The festival is funded through donations from the community.

“It’s really engaging a wide cross-section of community support,” said Aly Khalifa, the festival’s founder.

Khalifa said his intention behind founding SPARKcon was to create a structure for other people to define what the creative scene is in Raleigh. The festival also provides leadership training for the creative community and aims to merge creativity, business and cultural awareness.

“The idea is not to define what the content is; it’s to define the process of how it works,” Khalifa said. “It’s very process-oriented, not content-oriented.”

Powers said the festival was created to give people the opportunity to “show and tell.”

“Raleigh was the creative hub of the South and we needed to showcase that,” she said.

Many different art forms

Kirby’s interactive performance encouraged conversation about identity, community and social issues. Although it initially focused largely around the LGBTQ community, its scope has broadened in the past year.

“It was nice to know when someone read (the card), they knew where I was coming from,” said Elyse Perrone, who filled out a card and participated in VALIDnation. “As a Jew, its very difficult. … I feel like we have no voice.”

Other exhibits and performances were more light-hearted in nature. Vendors set up booths to sell jewelry, paintings and ceramic art while musicians positioned themselves along the chalk-covered street. Families strolled around the different exhibits with dogs in tow, hot dog from a food truck in hand.

Some performers delivered more nonconventional forms of creative expression. Sunday afternoon, two neon-clad instructors stood onstage and led a session of Zumba, an aerobic dance fitness program.

“I didn’t consider fitness as a form of art, but if you think about it, movement is art,” said Sherita Young, who participated in the Zumba session. “It’s a good fit.”

Other events held as a part of the festival Sunday included a coding workshop, a children’s yoga class, a boxing match in which participants climbed into 10-foot robots, and the “Raleigh rampage” in which people ran dressed as monsters through a cardboard box model of downtown Raleigh.

‘All about free expression’

Early in the afternoon, a small crowd gathered around the circusSPARK exhibit. Performers handed out oversized inflated bananas to anyone who wanted to participate in their “banana dance.” Everyone with a banana then formed a line and paraded around the festival, emulating the leader.

“We’re all about free expression,” said Betty Adorno, one of circusSPARK’s organizers. “It’s circus. Do something absurd in your life. Life is too short to be serious all the time.”

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