Friday, November 20, 2015

Celebrating light in dark times - "Light City Baltimore"

It has been all over the news this week, that Lyon scrapped its festival of lights this year because of the Paris attacks. That could easily have been the first time you may have heard of the  Fête des Lumières, even though this year is also the International Year of Light.
Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France (cancelled for 2015)

It isn't easy to keep up with all the designations of special days or international years of this and that. Lest you are a physicist speaking on November 16 in London about light in the company of  high-energy, optical, quantum and solid-state physicists who discuss recent developments enabled by Maxwell's Equations and will try to predict future innovations, you may think of this as a commercial gimmick.

The various "festivals of light" that have been around for some time received a boost by new solid state lighting technology (LED) but essentially harp back to the "dark" ages. And, yes, Baltimore is now on the bandwagon as well!

Baltimore will celebrate its own very first Festival of Lights in 2016, a full eight years after Belgrade in Croatia admitted it was a late-comer to the idea with this programmatic announcement:
"BELGRADE, THE CITY OF LIGHT “ is unique cultural event, festival dedicated to light, platform for creative innovations, experiments, art and expert discussions and exchanges of ideas on a topic of illumination. This year, Belgrade proudly enters into the sparkling net of light festivals that exist over the world and cherish this tradition for a long time, such as Lyon, Tallinn, Helsinki, Lisboa, and Eindhoven. 
The already mentioned Lyon festival of light happens every year since 1643. Having started with candles in the windows, as a motivator during the plague, the fete des lumieres is today's Lyon's most well known attraction and spans over four days. I love the English version advertising the event on their website (before the cancellation) for the last sentence in the quote below:
The programme promises four nights of enchantment, each night brings a different theme, color scheme and vibe.
Designers from all over the world partake in the wonderful event. Video, Music and Sound effects are used to accompany the vibrant images dotted around the city.
The exceptional spectacle showcases the city at its best and incorporates buildings, rivers and parks into the show. This enables tourists and locals alike to experience many different routes and areas throughout Lyon over the 4 day event.
The best spectacle is located in the city centre.
If you are still not convinced, what better to do then to experience the mayhem (sic!) yourself, Lyon awaits your visit.
Festival of Lights, Sidney, AUS

Festival of Lights, Berlin, Germany

Festival of Lights, Amsterdam, Netherlands

An overview of what such a light spectacle entails can be found on this 2014 Lyon video.

Of course, there is Hannukah, also called the festival of light, and several other religious celebrations of light known around the world including, of course the Christian tradition of Christmas lights often noted as having been derived from earlier heathen celebrations of light. All were designed to fend off the darkness of the long nights of December and encourage people against demons, darkness, ghosts, depression and the fear that the sun may never come back. Such fear is quite understandable in northern latitudes where night sets in as early as mid-afternoon and doesn't lift until mid-morning.
Inaugural event: Light City Baltimore 2016

 Baltimore's celebration of light has been dubbed "Light City Baltimore" and has been placed way into the lighter season of spring and will take place from March 28 to April 3. There is good reason why Baltimore picked the year 2016 to have its own festival of light: The 200 year celebration after Baltimore was reportedly the first US city to illuminate its streets with gas lights. The website describes the event this way:
Premiering in 2016, Light City Baltimore is the first large-scale, international light festival in the United States, homegrown right here in Baltimore. Light City will provide a backdrop for the celebration of ideas, ingenuity and creativity through art, music and innovation.
Light City will shine a light on Baltimore’s abundance of creative, cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary talent, and we welcome participants from across the globe to join us.
Light City’s innovation programming will generate an ecosystem of ideas and learning during the day – while lights, performances and live music reimagine the Inner Harbor at night.
Light City, Baltimore
The event will combine light as a visual art with performances and a innovation conference which, in turn, will emphasize how "social change can be powered". A list of participating artists can be found here. For more detail go to the organizer's website, BOPA.

The idea of moving the concept of light fests from being a romantic festival to lighten the mood during dark times to one that celebrates innovation and shines the path to the future has been taken from Sidney, organizers say according to an article published in February in the BBJ.
"The whole focus is this longer-term vision to have Baltimore viewed as an international city.This will highlight both the innovation happening in Baltimore, but also bring to Baltimore the big thinkers — the people who are thinking about what's next in the world" (Jamie McDonald, a founder of GiveCorps and a Light City Baltimore steering committee co-chairwoman). 
Innovation, light, international, big thinkers? Who could be against that!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

See Baltimore SUN article about the recently released preliminary line-up of artists.

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