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“‘Light City’ Festival Illuminating Baltimore”
By Charu Suri
March 22, 2016


Baltimore’s image has suffered a few setbacks of late, but soon Charm City will be the belle of nation with the largest light festival taking place on its picturesque Inner Harbor from March 28 to April 3.

The enthusiasm of Brooke Hall, founder of “Light City,” is infectious. She said the festival was engineered to bring people and the artistic community together and celebrate camaraderie and joie de vivre. What took three years to put together will finally come to fruition in a week.

“It’s a dream come true, truly,” she gushed. Hall’s creative agency, What Works Studio, has been involved with the creative arts and music scene in Baltimore for years. “About five years ago, we saw that there was so much cool stuff and happenings in the startup community,” she added. “We felt that Baltimore was bubbling up.” She felt that how the rest of the world saw Baltimore ended up in a bit of a disconnect.

What sparked this creativity was when Hall saw an illuminated photo of the Sydney Opera House on Facebook, and it took her by surprise. “That one photo stuck with me,” she said, “to the point where we were able to actually hire the creative director for Light Sydney to come and consult with us for Light City Baltimore.”

Despite being a transplant, she really wanted to expand the narrative of the city so that others too would see all the amazing things happening here. So Hall and her team rallied hundreds of photographers, videographers and other creative types, launching an online publication to tell 3,000 original stories.

Light City Baltimore came into being after this initial display of virtual affection. It took Hall three years to line up sponsors, but after she started explaining her vision to them, almost all jumped up in favor of her idea. After all “the festival is really about positioning Baltimore in a favorable light. We want to help the world see the city the way we want to see it,” she said.

The Producer of the festival is the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA) and the Title Sponsor, Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), which happens to be the oldest utility company in the country. BGE lit the first gas lanterns 200 years ago, and it’ll do it again to kick off Light City.

Some Illuminated Thing for Everyone

What is astonishing is the sheer number of performers during the weeklong event. You can slake your thirst for heights by riding The Big Wheel, a Ferris wheel decorated in LED lights. An old-fashioned Inner Harbor Carousel will be specially illuminated for kids and kids at heart.

There is homage to Japan during this festival, with several “Take To-Ro” (bamboo lanterns, with varying sizes of bamboo stalks illuminated from within, using LED Lights) and small “Andon” lanterns forming a beautiful bridge of lights in the green space next to the Maryland Science Center. This exhibit symbolizes the Baltimore-Kawasaki Sister City relationship.

And there will be several video installations too, one of which, “Water Will Be Here” is a site-specific, immersive installation that illustrates what would happen if Baltimore found itself underwater.

For the kid in all of us, there is illuminated “chalk art” with a project called “Lumin,” which features 100 community drawings done by different street artists nightly.

The Beacon, which is a landmark multi-story cube build from hundreds of LED panels, will feature Light City images, and a Light Up the Night! stage, which features fire, illuminated puppets, projections, drumming and the spoken word.

There’s also a BGE Light Art Walk the will cast a light on the history of Baltimore, including the slave trade, its famous clock face on South Eutaw Street, and five distinct neighborhoods that will be illuminated by a pilot artist-in-residence program with public art projects.

The Horizon is Limitless

But Hall is just getting started. She’s not thinking about Light City Baltimore and its prospective visitors in terms of a one-trick pony or just one year. “We’re looking at 10 years down the road,” she said, “and we want people to associate Light City with Baltimore.”

There has also been a big blitz of an advertising campaign. On a recent Amtrak ride up to Boston, I saw that Light City Baltimore’s hallmark poster (a picture of dancers getting groovy on “The Pool,” a series of colorful concentric circles designed by Jen Lewin that responds to movements of festival-goers) on the back of Arrive magazine.

At Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and Washington DC’s Union Station, there’s a bit of a blanket media effect. “We purchased ad space wherever there was an opportunity to buy ad space,” said Hall.

One thing is for certain: Light City Baltimore is sure to bring in scores of visitors to the Inner Harbor, and will serve the city well for years to come.

The festival runs from March 28-April and admission is free. There are over 1.5 miles of world-class art installations.