Light up your creative fires, SPARKcon is nearly upon us. The fourth annual creative conference will go down for four days this weekend in downtown Raleigh. The event includes literary, visual and performance arts to celebrate creativity and community.
The current incarnation began in 2006 as ideaSPARK to showcase local talent. SPARKcon then joined forces with the Raleigh Street Painting Festival, an event produced and organized by Visual Art Exchange since 1998.
This year, SPARKcon will move to Fayetteville Street. One sight line and one central location for surrounding venues (Pour House, Tir na nOg, etc.) make it easier to navigate the festival, which will include more than 500 artists, 11 venues and one main stage. New aspects have also popped up, including gamingSPARK, featuring local video games, and sipSPARK, described by longtime festival organizer Aly Khalifa of Designbox and Gamil Design as "an Iron Chef for bartenders."
Another new feature this year is SPARKplugs, where artists can do a short plug for their upcoming events. Also, in a throwback to medieval times, a town crier will roam the area, alerting passersby to upcoming events, as actionSPARKs. Twitter figures prominently on the technological end, with a couple of people designated to update rapidly on the festival in competitive live feeds. "Twitter has been huge this year," Khalifa said.
The conference organizers, or "bobbleheads," all agree on the growing importance of technology for getting the word out. "Last year we organized by e-mail, but this year we used Facebook," Khalifa said. Fellow bobblehead Sarah Powers, who works with Visual Art Exchange, adds that, "We sent out a call for artists on Facebook, and people started coming out of the woodwork to get involved. It's a neat way to find people—we're capitalizing on the power of social media," Powers said.
Within disciplines, there's a lot of overlap and collaboration among participants, Khalifa said. He specifically mentioned how body piercing and tattoos cross over with fashion. Powers said that most fashion designers choose music from local bands to accompany their runway shows.
SPARKcon also serves as a valuable outlet for arts information. "People call and ask to get in touch with a DJ or music, and they know we do SPARKcon," organizer Rachel Berry says.
"It's a Triangle-wide event, and we're trying to reach out and integrate as much as possible," Khalifa said. Berry adds that entries have come from all over, mentioning one for the digital gallery that arrived from Florida. "We could be the Kevin Bacon of the Triangle," Khalifa quips. —Sarah Ewald
In the end, Aharon Segal's confession requires very little coercion. When he organized soulSPARK, the preeminent music event at this year's SPARKcon, he realized it would afford him the opportunity to deejay records while some of his favorite North Carolina artists performed.
After all, Segal—known best as the soul and hip-hop crate digger DJ Gonzo—speaks of the night's five singers like idols: For Segal, Darien Brockington is an ultimate soul singer, with a suave stage presence and a voice that could make people faint. Kooley High "organized the youth in Raleigh around hip-hop." Carlitta Durand "quit her job waiting tables and is going full into music, and she sounds like a star." Yahzarah is "musically, just a knockout. Her performance, her energy level is above and beyond. Her physical stage presence is really just... What can I say?"
Segal should say that he's not simply being selfish. As he puts it, Segal, 28, has two jobs: He manages the merchandise warehouse at Tannis Root, the rock band T-shirt company in downtown Raleigh, and he deejays for M1 Platoon, the N.C. Central University-based hip-hop crew that's earned national interest through a series of strong mixtapes. Working within those respective circles, Segal encounters smart, creative people who he feels should be collaborating but don't actually know the others exist. SoulSPARK, he hopes, will introduce one group to another and, well, spark new relationships.
"You've got two incredibly vibrant, not entirely self-contained artistic communities that don't come together all that often, not because they're not aware of each other's existence," says Segal, citing the recent local compilation Hear Here: The Triangle as the sort of special moment one can create when connecting different communities. "If we can get the downtown arts scene supporting the soul music scene and vice versa, there could be all kinds of artistic inroads made." —Grayson Currin
SoulSPARK begins at The Pour House at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10, and the band Fat Snacks backs the singers. Nearly three dozen music events in Raleigh carry the SparkCon designation this weekend. We recommend Savage Knights, Gray Young and The Jazz Tones Thursday at 9 p.m. at Mosaic; Aminal, The Jackets, Bright Young Things and Starmount at Tir Na Nog Thursday at 9 p.m.; Neu Romance's DJ-stocked party at Mosaic Friday at 10 p.m.; Richard Bacchus, Rat Jackson and The Infamous Sugar at Slim's on Saturday at 10 p.m.; and Social Memory Complex and Tyler Hipnosis at Black Flower Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Established and evolving storytelling mediums are at home at SPARKcon, as the annual event expands into new arenas—some stranger than others.
Even with video game sales down this year, games still represent a creative medium that has opened new doors for storytelling, with games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and The Beatles: Rock Band earning raves from critics not previously enamored of the medium. So it's only fitting that the newest feature at SPARKcon is gamingSPARK, a representation of both new and established Triangle game makers.
Local games being spotlighted include a sample from Achron, a highly anticipated time-travel combat game from N.C. State University grad student Chris Hazard, Spark Plug Games' DQ Tycoon, which lets players manage their own virtual Dairy Queen, and Spectral Assault, a physics-heavy adventure created by a group of nine N.C. State students.
The spotlight on local gamers takes place at 5 p.m. at Urban Design Center on Friday, Sept.18. It also features a special demonstration of Alii Motion Technology, presented by Alex Lian of Duke University. This cross-platform technology has the capability to turn any standard Webcam into a motion controller for a real-action gaming experience. It might be a sign that the Triangle will be home to those who will create not only the games of the future, but new ways of playing them as well.
Those with a more competitive streak can embrace the area's biggest gaming hit, Epic's Gears of War 2, with a gaming tournament that promises a 32-inch Hitachi TV from Integrated Audio Video as its grand prize. The event starts at 1 p.m., and will continue until one chain-gun-wielding super-soldier remains.
Elsewhere this weekend, poetrySPARK encourages experienced and aspiring creative types with an open mic night at Morning Times at 10 E Hargett St. on Friday. Saturday's poetrySPARK event features a series of poetry readings. from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The themed readings include "Formal/ Metrical," "Narrative/ Lyrical," "Humor Me" and "Experimental." In a related event, storySPARK will feature a poetry slam on Fayetteville Street on Saturday from 9:15 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
FilmSPARK deals head-on with the issue of film production in North Carolina, showcasing both shorts by local filmmakers and plans for attracting more productions to the area. The shorts series, held at Artspace, includes films touching on everything from the end of Kings Barcade in downtown Raleigh ("The Death of Kings") to stalking St. Nick for failing to deliver a childhood gift ("Killing Santa"). The shorts run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Artspace on Sunday.
Earlier in the day, SPARK-goers will be able to actively participate in plans for the future of North Carolina filmmaking with "The State of Film in N.C. Roundtable." The discussion of how to keep North Carolina an attractive state for film production (seriously, the Wilmington-filmed One Tree Hill can't run forever) includes N.C. Film Office director Aaron Syrett, N.C. State professors Devin and Marsha Orgeron, and the Indy's David Fellerath. The event takes place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Artspace.
And you can even meet an unusual NC celebrity filmmaker in the form of Chris Knight, who is highlighted Friday as "The Dude Who Took Down Viacom." Knight's unsuccessful bid for a seat on Rockingham County's board of education in 2006 spawned a viral YouTube clip comparing his efforts to Star Wars. Unfortunately, his results inspired a copyright infringement lawsuit from Viacom—a lawsuit he managed to win. Come hear his story at Artspace on Friday from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m., and take comfort in the fact that North Carolinians are making impressions in all forms of creative media—even those prone to legal scrutiny. —Zack Smith