Festival The Great Northern Festival

Sponsored by 89.3 The Current

The Great Northern 2021


, MN


On sale Friday, December 4, 2020, 12:00 AM

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (December 1, 2020) – The Great Northern, which celebrates Minnesota winters through ten days of diverse programming that invigorate mind and body, today announces its 2021 festival plans. The Festival brings together legacy events and produces original artistic, cultural and ideas programming to share the spirit of the North with the world and inspire action on climate change.

Think large scale citywide projections of digital animated artwork by “ChangeMaker” (MPR) Marlena Myles; a series of experimental walks with award-winning architecture/art duo Dream the Combine meant to highlight the sensorial experience of winter; a conversation on climate science, policy and justice with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson; live fire grilling from celebrated chef Yia Vang; and more.

Since its inception in 2017, The Great Northern has drawn 375,000 annual visitors from around the region and engaged them with opportunities to learn, play, think, and build connections in the heart of winter and to highlight Minnesota at its seasonal best.

The Great Northern was founded by board president Eric Dayton— CEO of Askov Finlayson, named 2019 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum—in the belief that Minnesota can be a vibrant, welcoming place for everyone to live and work year-round.

With a mission essential to the wellbeing of the Minnesota community, particularly during this challenging and socially isolating time, The Great Northern will continually evaluate best practices related to COVID-19 to ensure a safe experience for all.

“The 2021 festival will include conversations, arts and cultural programming, and activities designed to create human and environmental connection,” said Kate Nordstrum, executive and artistic director of The Great Northern. “We examine our changing climate creatively—through walks, art, music, writing and storytelling. These poignant and visceral experiences will hopefully personalize the issue for attendees and inspire them to become advocates in their own networks and communities.”

The Great Northern hired Kate Nordstrum as executive and artistic director in December 2019 to lead the organization into this future and reimagine its mission and programming. A “curatorial powerhouse with international pull” (MPR), Nordstrum is known as a “storied matchmaker” (Star Tribune) and natural connector who collaborates with partner organizations to apply complementary lenses to projects and aggregate resources.

“I’m incredibly excited for The Great Northern this year, our first under Kate Nordstrum’s visionary leadership,” said Dayton. “She has created a robust and diverse calendar of programming at a time when, now more than ever, we need opportunities to safely come together and experience the healing power of community.”

Three legacy festivals—the City of Lakes Loppet, Saint Paul Winter Carnival and U.S. Pond Hockey Championships—are founding partners of The Great Northern. Previously scheduled across the winter months, the three festivals now place over a coordinated 10-day period with signature events, including the Winter Carnival’s celebrated Ice Carving Competition and Snow Sculpture Contest (now a drive through at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds). Due to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines set forth by the state of Minnesota, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships had to cancel its 2021 games but plans a celebratory return in 2022.

The full schedule of 2021 original programming is available at thegreatnorthernfestival.com. All Great Northern-produced events have been designed in full compliance with COVID-19 safety guides put forward by the Minnesota Department of Health and are subject to change.

A few highlights of 25 projects—divided by category—are highlighted below:


Original work and world premieres by visionary local, national and international artists.

• The Palms, a world premiere storytelling, photo sharing, semi-improvised new music event by first-time collaborators, renowned photographer Alec Soth (“celebrated chronicler of contemporary American life" –The Guardian) and drummer/ composer Dave King (“better than anyone at mixing the sensibilities of post-‘60s jazz and indie rock” –The New York Times), commissioned by The Great Northern.

• The Meta Simulacrum Vol. 1 uses the symbology of our shared past to look forward into an uncertain future of climate change. This world premiere streaming concert, copresented with the Walker Art Center and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, features musician-composer supergroup William Brittelle (music director), Holland Andrews (Like a Villain), Channy Leaneagh (Poliça), Will Johnson (WILLS), Immanuel Wilkins (sax), Ian Chang (percussion), Erika Dohi (synth), Chris Fishman (keys), Rafiq Bhatia (guitar), Jackson Hill (bass), and musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.


The Great Northern promotes a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle by encouraging individuals to get outside and enjoy all the season offers.

• Award-winning architecture/art duo Dream the Combine design a series of experimental walks meant to highlight sensorial experiences of winter, from the retinal-burning white of fresh snow, to the crisp blue of the vapor-less sky, or the snap of footfalls cracking newly formed ice. DTC’s walks aim to provoke discovery and seeing our city, landscape, and each other in unexpected ways.

• In partnership with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation’s Next Generation of Parks, Dudley Edmondson and Monica Bryand of the Urban Bird Collective will lead Winter Birding, a familyfriendly discussion and exploration of the most common— and colorful—birds seen in metro area backyards, binoculars for beginners, ways to attract birds to your backyard, and the best Minnesota field trips for winter birdwatching.

IDEAS Keynote and panel conversations, specialty podcast episode launches, film screenings, commissioned writing, author talks, storytelling and other thought-provoking formats that allow us to explore time, place, and our changing climate through the lenses of culture, the economy, and social equity.

• A conversation on climate science, policy and justice with “the most influential Marine Biologist of our time” (Outside) Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, in partnership with Westminster Town Hall Forum and Minnesota Public Radio, kicking off a week of climate solutions “lunchtime learning.”

• Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, New York Times bestselling author, and National Humanities Medalist Krista Tippett interviews poet, teacher, birder and conservationist J. Drew Lanham, author of The Home Place—Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (Milkweed Editions) for a special episode On Being in partnership with The Great Northern.

• Films are a powerful tool to address climate change — they educate, inspire, and empower audiences toward action. For the inaugural collaboration of The Great Northern and MSP Film, we will present a virtual film festival that speaks to essential issues in the climate conversation based around the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire.


Curated experiences focused on craft, regionality and seasonality.

• Dialogue with Sean Sherman (The Sioux Chef, Minneapolis) and Mikkel-Lau Mikkelsen (Noma/VILD MAD, Copenhagen) on getting outside and connecting with nature through foraging. The talk will include a focus on seasonality/rhythm of foraging in northern climates, similarities/differences between Sherman and Mikkelsen's approaches, what is foragable in winter, climate change's effects on foraging in Minneapolis and Copenhagen, and foraging as a path to sustainability.

• Famed Chef Yia Vang (Union Hmong Kitchen, Vinai) welcomes visitors to this Live Fire Grilling takeout site with optimum viewing for the premiere of Marlena Myles’ Innerworld Prism, outlined below.

PUBLIC ART Site-specific art that changes the way we see and engage with our environment.

• Innerworld Prism: Large-scale digital animated artwork by visionary creator Marlena Myles, projected onto the iconic Highlight Tower in NE Minneapolis on “festival eve”, then displayed at different pop-up sites across the Twin Cities throughout the festival. The Great Northern-commissioned work is described by Myles as “the loss of Ego to regain Nature, a reverie of ourselves to cherish and explore.”

• UNWEAVING is a temporary outdoor sculpture installation by multi-disciplinary artist Tia Keobounpheng that explores the ways that tradition, culture, communities, and individuals are unwoven when they are disconnected from their foundation of ancestral history.

“We are prompting people to be intentional this time of year to use winter as a period of invigoration for mind, body and spirit,” said Nordstrum. “This is a very rich time for our culture—The Great Northern spotlights it.”

For more information on The Great Northern, please visit www.thegreatnorthernfestival.com or follow along on social media at @TheGreatNorthernFestival.