Grant funding brings Illuminate Springfield light festival to Downtown

Federal grant funding secured through The Westcott House has made it possible for a light festival to be part of the Holiday in the City festivities this year.

Illuminate Springfield, powered by AuroraMax, is an interactive light festival that will include projections, performers, and interactive light activities throughout Downtown Springfield from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 18.

The Westcott House secured a grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as the Ohio Arts Council, to fund local, regional and national artists to participate in the Illuminate Springfield.

“As an arts and design organization, we try to leverage some of the resources to help make our downtown culturally and artistically vibrant and to draw people to the core of our city,” says Marta Wojcik, executive director of the Westcott House. “We have a fantastic inventory of historic buildings in our downtown, some of which will be highlighted and celebrated as part of this event.”

Light projections – some choreographed along with music – will be displayed on buildings including The Heritage Center, the Lagonda building, and the State Theatre.

“By projecting onto these historical buildings, it breathes light into some of these spaces that will someday be reimagined and repurposed,” says John Kelly, downtown events programmer for The Greater Springfield Partnership. “It brings a new kind of life and art to Downtown, and it’s a bridge between Springfield’s history and its future.”

Lights will also be projected at National Road Commons, and live performances and interactive light displays will be found on City Hall Plaza, including Gary Geis Dance Company, LED hula hooping, and LED staff and poi dancing.

The entire festival has been designed by The Now Device, a Seattle-based company co-owned and operated by Springfield native Rod Hatfield and Seattle artist Scott Keva James.

Through his businesses relationship with Hatfield, James has built connections in Springfield for more than a decade, including being part of a program hosted by the Westcott House.

“The Westcott House has a long history of collaborating with the media artists – specifically, many years ago, we co-created Westcott Design Studio with Scott James. It’s an educational program for high school students who have an opportunity to learn how to combine the arts and technology into a light-based exhibition,” Wojcik says. “It’s been a very popular program and an effective way to connect students to our site.

“So this event is a natural extension of exploring the idea of celebrating our urban environment by the use of light-based art.”

James says light festivals like Illuminate Springfield are more common on the West Coast, where he’s presented a variety of them.

“The big thing is to wander through to discover the space and see all these kinds of artworks,” James says. “It’s been two to three years that we have been trying to find a way to do this here. It feels like the right kind of event for Springfield.

“A light festival is the kind of event that livens a downtown, brings people to the core and gives them something different to do.”

The Now Device will be an anchor artist at Illuminate Springfield – presenting the AuroraMax show on The Heritage Center and the light projections on the Gary Geis dancers’ costumes.

James also collaborated on an installation called The Wall – an interactive light and sound display that lets visitors create waves of color and texture along the wall.

The festival feeling interactive and inviting is a huge part of its draw, James says, explaining that for many light festivals, attendees come dressed in their own lighted items. Visitors are invited to come in their lit-up best, if they'd like, and a vendor will be available at Illuminate Springfield for people to purchase light-up items also.

“Its really about being in the place and enjoying the warmth and fun that light bring to it,” James says.

Wojcik agrees, saying light festivals are a way to share art with the larger community.

“Light festivals across the United States prove to attract people of all ages and from all walks of life,” she says. “Through this collaborative project, we are able to create art experiences that break the barriers present in a more traditional museum setting.

“It’s free and open to anyone, and we wish for the participants to leave with a sense of wonder, inspiration and hunger for more art.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.