You’ll find beautiful sidewalk art at SPARKcon. But don’t forget about the music, dance and more

Tanessa Barlow, a Zumba instructor from Fitness Connection, dances in front of the main stage at the SPARKcon Zumba Party in 2013 in downtown Raleigh. This year’s festival is Sept. 14 to Sept. 17.
Tanessa Barlow, a Zumba instructor from Fitness Connection, dances in front of the main stage at the SPARKcon Zumba Party in 2013 in downtown Raleigh. This year’s festival is Sept. 14 to Sept. 17. News & Observer file photo

To those who just can’t wait to make some variation of the joke, “There’s sidewalk chalk dust in the air, so it must be SPARKcon season again,” save it. Laken Geiger has heard them all before.

Geiger is the volunteer media contact coordinator for the 12th annual festival that celebrates the creative side of the Triangle. She says she understands why the sidewalk art is such a focal point for many people when it comes to discussing the yearly event.

“That seems to be what is in all of the pictures that are shown after the festival, and that’s easy to point toward as a talent you’ll find here,” she said.

But she’s quick to point out many of the other talents that are on display each year along the streets of downtown Raleigh. This year’s festival kicked off Sept. 14 and continues through Sept. 17. The free arts celebration continues to feature more than 2,000 artists in more than 200 events that are divided into 14 “Sparks.”

“The fact that we have over seven dance workshops that we teach free and open to the public over the weekend; the fact that we have over 20 independent films shown; over 40 bands playing should show that its a lot more comprehensive than just the chalk part,” Geiger said.

“It all happens simultaneously, so a lot of people can’t really get the scope of all of the events in one place at one time,” says Geiger, who also serves as programs manager at Visual Art Exchange, the downtown arts incubator that produces SPARKcon each year.

Attendees’ time management – and a general sense that it was time to mix things up a bit – were on planners’ minds when it came time to start scheduling the street art event.

While every year sees new elements added to the festival – which has grown rapidly from its first year in 2006 to the current four-day celebration that brings 60,000 attendees to Raleigh – Geiger thinks this year might be the first that many visitors actually spend outside of their comfort zones, thanks to changes being made in the footprint of the festival.

“Traditionally we’ve had each SPARK in its own area,” she said. “For instance, the street painting would be all on its own side of Fayetteville Street. The Bazaar, which is our vendor section, would be on the other side. This year, we wanted it to be a little more eclectic, and a mixing of the different SPARKs, so that people really get a sense of the scope that we bring.”

With that in mind, we took a look at the schedule for this year’s event and have highlighted our picks for this year’s must-sees.

Judge for yourself by visiting sparkcon.com for the full schedule and venue details, as this is only a taste of the 14 Sparks to be found this year.


Some of the organizers might chafe at the notion that the artSPARK portion of the weekend has gotten much of the attention in past years, but there’s good reason for it. With both the street painting occurring throughout much of the weekend and Marbles Kids Museum’s participation in an Art & Science exhibit that features a “paint pendulum,” it’ll be tough to break that streak this year.


This brings a mall’s worth of local vendors and artisans to inhabit a block of downtown Raleigh. Several are always a hit with the crowds at outdoor events, such as the eco-friendly line of T-shirts produced by local Pamut Apparel and the custom clocks on display via Raleigh-based Dave Greway Designs, so get there early and be ready to shop.


The comedy part of SPARKcon is a perennial hit with attendees, and this year should be no different. Arguably the area’s best showcase for stand-up comedians, “The Dangling Loafer” will be on hand at Kings early Friday night. The most tempting performances to catch, however, might be the self-explanatory Filthy Standup Comedy Night at dessert and cocktail bar Bittersweet.


I’m a simple man with simple tastes, so when I’m offered a chance to watch a 1-on-1 Bboy/Bgirl Battle Tournament – being held by local Bboy crew Raleigh Rockers for danceSPARK on Saturday afternoon – there’s no chance that I’m going to miss it. And since you are there for that, check out the tango dance workshop offered afterward by Cirque de Vol Studios.


This is sure to be one of the most trafficked areas of the festival this year, thanks to Making the Incredible, Credible – a Dix Park Unicorn VR Experience, which gives folks a chance to experience some of the possibilities being dreamed up for Dorothea Dix park. This virtual reality experience is being provided by the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department and local video ad agency Myriad Media, so expect to be blown away.


What: SPARKcon

When: 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.

Info: sparkcon.com

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