This is the 12th year SPARKcon has taken over the streets of downtown Raleigh, but the event remains a mystery to many.
The free arts celebration – produced by the nonprofit creativity incubator Visual Art Exchange – continues to feature more than 2,000 artists in more than 200 events.
But SPARKcon differs from other events that set up along the same sidewalks, relying on those interested in performing and volunteering to maintain the festival’s status within the community.
Starting Thursday, Sept. 14, those groups’ talents will be on display, as the festival, with its 14 distinct “Sparks,” opens its four-day run. Here’s how to make the most of the first night.
Start with the opening event for musicSPARK. The band Zen Groove Funkestra will take the stage at Exchange Plaza at 6 p.m. The Triangle-based funk/jazz/jam band has made a name for itself through its high-energy performances and its reputation for shows that feature surprise guests. With an ever-fluctuating number of members – you never know if you’re getting a tight quartet or a rambunctious eight piece – the only guarantee is you’ll be moving to the beat.
From there, head to the filmSPARK Launch Party at Oak & Dagger Public House at Seaboard Station. The Oak & Dagger will provide the drinks, but the small talk will come from an audience made up of by some of the most talented filmmakers in the Triangle.
The party runs from 7 to 9 p.m., but if you are more of an introverted art lover, there are two great alternatives for those cutting out early. ArtSPARK is the signature segment of the festival, and this year’s kickoff event will remind everyone why. Head to City Plaza at 8 p.m. for a night of Light Art. Featuring long-exposure photography and L.E.D. lights, the installation might be the most buzzed-about showcase of the weekend.
If visual arts aren’t your thing, litSPARK kicks off with a reading that independent bookseller So & So Books will host in SPARKcon’s gallery in Market Plaza. The reading – set for 8 p.m. – will feature local writers Dasan Ahuna and Belle Boggs.
ComedySPARK – always a fan favorite – offers a Standup Comedy Showcase on its first night. The event, held at Fayetteville Street’s Ruby Deluxe, will feature several Triangle comedians. Some of these folks might be just moments away from breaking through to more widespread acclaim, so catch them at an intimate local venue for free while you can.
“Intimate” is a good lead-in to the last stop for the night, as Kings plays host to circusSPARK’s kickoff event, and there is definitely a reason for the event’s late starting time. Beginning with a cocktail party and pre-show at 9 p.m., SPARKcon After Dark offers a night of burlesque and erotic poetry until midnight. Photography won’t be allowed for this one, folks, but tipping the performers is strongly encouraged, and donations are appreciated by those who are hoping to continue these events into the future.
The first night’s schedule will have you running from one end of downtown to the other, but you’ll likely agree that the exercise was worth it.
When: Sept. 14, 6 to 10 p.m.; Sept. 15, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sept. 16, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sept. 17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Throughout downtown Raleigh at various venues and on Fayetteville Street.