SPARKcon is here, it’s weird and it’s awesome. Hosted by the Visual Art Exchange (VAE), SPARKcon is a celebration of creativity featuring hundreds of artists through diverse events. Previously held on Fayetteville Street, this year SPARKcon will be held in the Warehouse District September 13-15. Brandon Cordrey, executive director of VAE, says that since the Warehouse District has been VAE’s neighborhood for eight years, bringing SPARKcon to the area was “a natural fit.” This year, the festival has also paired up with Art Intimacy—a local nonprofit focused on equitable art—to create a more inclusive program. There will be sensory-friendly packs available and guests can use the BlindSquare event app, which assists low-vision and blind individuals with navigation.
SPARKcon allows each part of the creative community to plan its own “SPARK” showcasing different talents, including musicSPARK, fashionSPARK and comedySPARK, to name a few. “It’s always for the community, by the community,” says Cordrey. Organized by a group of volunteers, from fire safety engineers to circus performers, SPARKcon is executed through an open-source leadership structure, allowing talent and audience members to come together to create and experience events. Three-and-a-half blocks of the burgeoning neighborhood will be closed off and over 30 indoor venues will host events. Arts, crafts, circus, comedy, dance, design, fashion, film, music, theatre—if you can dream it, you can find it at SPARKcon. —Sasha Schroeder
All SPARKcon events are free and open to all; no pre-registration is required.
Paperhand Puppet Intervention
With larger-than-life puppets that dance, fly and float across the stage, Paperhand Puppet Intervention (PPI) is a visual treat for all ages. Made from papier-mâché, cardboard, bamboo, paint, cloth and recycled items, the nature-inspired figures are moved by stilt dancers and black-clad puppeteers across the stage, accompanied by a live orchestra. On September 6, the group will perform We Are Here, a pageant marking the group’s 20th anniversary, at NCMA’s Museum Park Theater.
We Are Here is a call for the audience to be more conscious of its surroundings, says Donovan Zimmerman, co-founder and co-director of PPI. “That’s what the ‘Intervention’ part of our name is all about,” says Zimmerman, who says that the group’s core values are promoting justice, equality and peace. “In many ways we’re here to help speak for the trees, foxes, squirrels and water. We Are Here attempts to connect people with the idea that all of those things have value and are important.”
Along with co-director Jan Burger, Zimmerman and the rest of the PPI group have been hard at work all summer crafting the show, from its original score to the unique puppets that bring the story to life. PPI’s studio is based in Saxapahaw, and volunteers are welcome to help the team create, paint and assemble the puppets alongside its four studio artists, eight interns and 15 puppeteers. Zimmerman says that over 200 people pitch in on different community workdays, and in addition to volunteer hours, the group relies on community donations—this year, they raised more than $30,000 on Kickstarter to bring We Are Here to life.
Decades of community involvement and performances have strengthened Paperhand’s following: PPI has been performing at NCMA for the past 13 years, and at the Forest Theatre in Chapel Hill for 20 years. We Are Here will run at NCMA September 7-9, and you can catch PPI performing weekends at the Forest Theatre until September 29. —Sasha Schroeder
BugFest is back for its 24th year September 21 at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Last year’s festival drew more than 30,000 visitors, and Kari Wouk, Senior Manager of Educational Collaborations at the museum, says they’re hoping for even more this year. The festival focuses on a specific arthropod (that’s any bug with an exoskeleton, if your science is a little rusty) each year, and the 2019 focus is the beetle. “After all, the beetle is one of the most diverse species on the planet,” says Wouk.
From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the museum and its surrounding streets will be transformed into a bug-topia: over 100 exhibits on beetles and arthropods, activities for kids like arthropod Olympics and bag beetle battle (a buggy take on a potato sack race), an evening bug-cooking demo and most importantly, the acclaimed Café Insecta. Café Insecta has long been a fan favorite of BugFest, with insect cuisine prepared by local chefs. Wouk says a favorite dish from BugFest a few years ago included crickets: “A chef from a Thai restaurant requested their crickets still alive, to feed them spices before cooking them into their dish.”
Food truck chefs like Mr. Mongolian and Pho Nomenal Dumpling will team up to cook bug-themed dishes for the adventurous eater. Wouk says to expect dishes like bug burgers, three-cheese cricket quesadillas and green tea mill-worm donuts with black sesame ice cream. For more chances to try bug-themed dishes, join the two chefs the night before, for a “Critter Cookoff,” where they’ll be challenged to cook up a tasty dish with a secret ingredient. It’s not just for gross-out purposes: “Eating bugs puts less pressure on the environment, making insects’ climate footprint even smaller,” says Wouk.
While BugFest may be best known for its wacky activities and surprising snacks, Wouk says it’s just another way to teach kids about the importance of bugs and all living begins. “We want people to be aware of arthropod conservation and show them ways to get involved,” she says. “Bugs need a lot of love.” —Miranda Evon
Groove in the Garden
Raleigh Little Theatre’s Groove in the Garden kicks off its fifth year of live and local music September 21. Eight local bands are set to play in the Rose Garden, opening with alternative indie band Arson Daily and closing the festival with Sarah Shook & The Disarmers’ honky-tonk sound. RLT Executive Director Charles Phaneuf says he looks forward to the locally-focused event every year. “Groove in the Garden is exciting because you get to see a lot of bands from the area who are handpicked by our talented partners at The Pour House.”
Adam Lindstaedt, owner of The Pour House and founder of Groove in the Garden, says he chooses local bands for the festival that have previously performed at his venue. “The music comes from here, and we’re proud to showcase and have them represent our state.”
Spend the day enjoying homegrown music, complete with 35 local vendors including food trucks like pizza from Pie Pushers and barbecue from Longleaf Swine, plus beer from Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing (guests are welcome to bring their own food, but no outside alcohol or glass, please). Activities for kids are available like hula hoops and an arts and crafts station. There are even treats for your pup—yes, this is a dog-friendly music festival!
The festival has grown since its inception in 2014: the bands are more diverse, Lindstaedt says, and now represent a wider genre of music that North Carolina has to offer. The festival is particularly special to Lindstaedt as he selects the bands that play. “Seeing the bands we’ve been working with the past few years, from playing shows for five people on a Tuesday evening to growing and developing a larger fan base, is worthwhile,” he says. “My goal is to get them to where they’re too big to play at my venue.” —Miranda Evon