As the last of the stages and light installations come down this week, the city is declaring Light City Baltimore a victory.
Almost 400,000 people attended the week-long arts and innovation festival, which was 50,000 more than planned. The innovation conferences that accompanied the nighttime celebration sold out, and happy festival goers raved about the energy and excitement they experienced as the city converged on the Inner Harbor.
“It was something the city wanted and needed, or you don’t get that kind of outpouring,” said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. “When you’ve worked on it as long as we have, it’s very emotional. It all came together and people came out and loved it.”
No first year is perfect, and the festival had some kinks, plus crazy weather to contend with that brought an end to Saturday night’s performances and dismantled at least one of the 28 light installations. (Labyrinth by Ian Brill never did make it back up after wind gusts took it down the first day.) Some in the artistic community worried that the social justice component and promotion of local artists was lost in the spectacle.
Gilmore said that next year he’d like to add bigger light projectors to make the installations shine brighter, plus budget time to test the works and continue to reduce ambient light. His staff will also know to ask more questions about the materials of the installations. (And while you’re at it, bring more publicity to the guided art walks and places to grab a festival map.)
As for the weather, “you can’t control it,” Gilmore said, and must just have contingency plans in place.
Looking ahead to next year and the years to come, the Harbor and the light walk will remain central elements, though the festival will expand its reach to other neighborhoods—“I think Druid Hill Park is a natural fit,” Gilmore said. The festival steering committee is also weighing options about the length of the festival—perhaps 10 days?—and discussing increasing daytime activities to bring in more visitors from outside Baltimore.
When reflecting on last week, “it’s easy to be critical,” Gilmore said, “but we had folks from light festivals in New Orleans and [other cities] that were blown away by Light City, especially for our first year.”