It is that time of the year when downtowns and commercial districts put up their holiday lights. Many districts, however, go beyond the typical Christmas lights. In an increasing number of cities across the world, large-scale light installations that blend art and technology are making their mark, lighting up the night of downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. Many of these light festivals include interactive elements that turn spectators into participants, while others include live music, performances, street food and a variety of community events. Light festivals are also tourism magnets, attracting locals and out-of-towners alike to waterfronts, historic districts, and other neighborhoods on dark winter nights or during other periods when tourist activity may be low. Below are some inspiring examples.
From December until January Amsterdam lights up for the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. Over 35 artworks from international artists, designers and architects find their way alongside two different exhibition routes: ‘Water Colors’, the boat route and ‘Illuminate’, the walking route. Organized and managed by a public-private partnership between the municipality, the cultural sector and numerous businesses, its Board includes representatives from the cultural sector and various businesses in Amsterdam.
The festival offers a stage to light artists from all over the world to present their work in Amsterdam for two months and stimulates them to push their own boundaries and innovate. A jury selects the artworks that will become part of the festival. In 2016 about 1800 artists from 93 different countries were interested in participating in the festival, of which 35 concepts were selected.
Since 1998, the city of Turin, Italy, hosts the ‘Luci d’Artista’ a series of light installations that combine art and technology to illuminate the city’s streets and piazzas during the holidays. Since its first edition, the event became a point of reference for Italian contemporary artists to showcase their work and has attracted an increasing number of local and international visitors.
From November to March, Nabana no Sato is one of the largest light festivals in Japan. There are various attractions including a huge field transformed into a sea of lights below an animated light show, light tunnels and an observation deck that lifts visitors high above the park where they can get a bird’s eye view of the lights.
Light Up Night is a festival in Pittsburgh held during the winter holiday season. Many retailers in downtown Pittsburgh remain open late, and street vendors and other concessionaires sell food and give away hot beverages, treats and promotional items. The city is decorated with Christmas lights, trees and other holiday decorations. On Light Up Night, the skyscrapers and buildings in and around downtown keep their lights on throughout the night, lending to the name. According to local news, over 200,000 people attend the festivities.
During the holidays the historic streets and famous River Walk of San Antonio, TX, are illuminated with millions of decorative lights, which are part of a number of lighting events including the Ford Holiday River Parade (the event that kicks off the holidays as thousands of lights illuminate the River Walk and decorated floats wind through the river in one of the country’s only nighttime river parades), the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (visitors of all ages stroll along the banks of the San Antonio River guided by more than 6,000 luminarias. These warmly glowing candles in sand-filled bags line the walkways to symbolically mark the “lighting of the way” for the Holy Family), among other events that together attract thousands of visitors to the city every holiday season.
For the past eleven holiday seasons the buildings of downtown Rochester, MI, have their entire facades covered with over one million points of LED lights to create The Big, Bright Light Show. The Big, Bright Light Show is typically held in conjunction with the Lagniappe festival. Created for downtown merchants to celebrate the holiday season, Lagniappe comes from the Creole word meaning “a little something extra” and retailers provide discounts and giveaways to their customers.