Celebration of Monarch Migration Supported with MRAC Funds

Article by Belo Miguel Cipriani

With large, orange and black wings, monarch butterflies are easy to spot during Minnesota’s summer months. They arrive at the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” around June and begin their journey south in late August— with some of the colorful insects departing as late as October. Each fall, the Minneapolis Monarch Festival celebrates this pollinator’s 2,300-mile migration from Minnesota to Mexico with music, dance, food and art at Lake Nokomis.

“2020 marks the 12th year anniversary of the event,” said Becky Timm, Executive Director of the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association, which co-hosts the festival with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. She shared the festival has grown from a few hundred attendees, to a crowd of about 8,000.

“People don’t know how big the festival is,” said Timm, “and they are so surprised when they see all of the vendors, performers, and activities for kids.”

To fund an event of this size, Timm relies heavily on grants and donations. In 2019, the Minneapolis Monarch Festival was awarded an Arts Project Support Grant from MRAC to fund its 2020 program. But while the organization has received this fund in the past, Timm notes her initial application for the grant didn’t go so well.

“The first time I applied for the grant, I didn’t get it,” she said. “And, it was probably because I wasn’t describing the project clearly enough.”

Participants experiences hands-on screenprinting while learning about monarchs at Sarah Nassif’s printmaking booth.

“I’m grateful though,” she continued, “that MRAC worked with me to improve my application. One of the directors at MRAC gave me some tips on how to improve my language and state our goals more effectively. I also got help with ways to update my application to reapply in following years.”

In addition to securing funds from local organizations, the Minneapolis Monarch Festival relies on community partners to assist with the execution of the event. One of its partners is the Mexican Consulate, whose booth provides information about Michoacán, Mexico — the place where monarchs spend winter.

Photo of the 2019 Monarch Festival.

“The festival is a bicultural celebration,” said Timm, “and about 40% of attendees are Spanish speakers. We are honoring the Minnesota and Michoacán connection and ensuring that everyone is included.”

All event information is available in both Spanish and English, and there are half a dozen Spanish speaking performers every year. Past talent has included the sights and sounds of Ballet Folklórico, showcasing Mexican folk dances, as well as the rhythmic beats of Twin Cities orchestra Salsa del Soul.

There are eight canopies that each house an artist with a Minnesota connection, whose work engages the monarchs in some way. In recent years, festival attendees have enjoyed time with Gustavo Boada, and got to paint large canvas murals of monarch butterflies and caterpillars. Karine Rupp-Stanko inspired many folks of all ages to fold paper to create butterflies and flowers, while Lynette LaRue got others to make paper caterpillar puppets.

Costumes are encouraged at the festival and it’s common to see kids and pets sporting orange and black wings as they move between booths and food trucks. Painted butterflies on arms and faces are also a big thing, as well as typical fair food and Mexican cuisine.

Perhaps one of the best activities at the event is to have the chance to interact with the big butterflies, whose wings average three to four inches. “There are many opportunities,” said MaryLynn Pulscher, General Information and Event Manager for the Minneapolis Monarch Festival, “to get up close with monarchs, learn more about their life cycle, migration route and overwintering sites, as well as actions to take that will benefit monarchs.”

Pulscher, who also serves as the Environmental Education Manager at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, shared many of the tents have live monarchs that anyone can view. “Festival attendees should look for booths featuring the U.S. Forest Service and El Valor — a bilingual nature preschool,” she said.

Pulscher also invites people to check out the Monarch Joint Venture Education Tent to learn about and help tag and release monarchs, as well as the Nokomis Naturescape to see monarch caterpillars and learn about native plants monarchs need to survive.

Over the past few decades, the monarch population has declined. This is the result of their habitats being contaminated with pesticides or being cut down all together. The devastation of milkweed, which the monarchs lay their eggs on, is especially problematic, because it’s the only source of food for them during their caterpillar phase.

The monarch life cycle has four stages — egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult — that takes about a month to complete. Full-grown monarchs live between two and six weeks and spend summer months mating and feeding on nectar. But in mid-August, a unique monarch butterfly will emerge in Minnesota, Canada, and in the Eastern U.S. Unlike its parents and grandparents, these monarchs, known as the overwintering generation, will live up to nine months. They will also look different, with darker colors and more narrow, aerodynamic wings.

Overwintering monarchs will not immediately mate like previous generations, and instead focus on the more than 2,000-mile migration to central Mexico — a place they have never been to before. The monarchs from Minnesota will fly down through Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, coasting on jet streams and reaching up to two miles high in the sky. Traveling, at times, up to 100 miles a day, the large butterfly will dodge predators, fast-moving cars and bad weather.

The monarchs (la monarca) reach the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico in early November — painting the skies orange and black. The sound of millions of wings flapping in unison, which can only be heard in central Mexico, is often described as a whispering waterfall.

For thousands of years, the people of these mountains have believed that the butterflies are the soul of a family member that has passed and is coming back to visit them. The arrival of the monarchs to this region coincides with one of Mexico’s biggest festivals — Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The butterflies will winter in clusters on fir trees in Michoacán until March, and then begin the journey north — mating and feeding along the way. It’s the great grandchildren of these butterflies that will return to the Mexican forest the following winter, from places like Minnesota, and start the cycle all over again.

The 2020 Minneapolis Monarch Festival (Festival de la Monarca) takes place at Lake Nokomis on Saturday, September 12, from 10 am to 4 pm. ASL interpreters will be available, and people needing accommodations related to accessibility can check in with the information booth or send an email prior to the event to monarchs@minneapolisparks.org. For general information, please visit: http://monarchfestival.org/.

Images in this post demonstrate work created by Sarah Nassiff for the screenprinting project booth at the festival. Nassif’s interactive screenprinting project allows festival goers to pull their own screenprinted poster celebrating an aspect of the monarch’s experience. Working with Minneapolis Parks, Nassif illustrates annual themes like “Make Friends with Pollinators/Hazte Amigos con Polinizadores” and provides environmental education to participants at her booth. The booth serves 1500+ festival attendees in just 6 hours, with participants collecting designs year after year. https://www.sarahnassif.com

The next Arts Project Support grant deadline is Monday, April 6, 2020. 

Belo Miguel Cipriani is a media entrepreneur, an award-winning author, a prize-winning journalist, and a teacher, nationally recognized for his contributions to the advocacy, employment diversity, and disability fields. He is the CEO and founder of Oleb Media – an ADA compliance firm – and the publishing house Oleb Books.  He, along with writer Anitra Budd, is talking with MRAC artists and groups to hear and share their stories in the monthly series.

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