Culture + Style

How Charm City Becomes Light City for One Electrifying Week

An art installation called “The Pool” by Jen Lewin will be featured at Light City, Baltimore’s first festival of light. (Photo: Denise Leong)

All cities have interesting bragging rights that you may have never known about them, whether you’re a local or not. Take Baltimore. Did you know that it was the first city in America to debut gas lamps as streetlights in 1816? On March 28-April 3, Baltimore celebrates its historical role in light innovation and takes it to another level with Light City, its first festival of light. The Inner Harbor will shimmer with homegrown, high-tech art installations and performances that shine a light on what makes Charm City great.

“People won’t understand the full breadth of amazement until we turn all the lights on,” Kathy Hornig, director of festivals for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts told Marriott TRAVELER. “We’ve worked very hard to create a world-class light festival like ones you’d find in Sydney, London and Amsterdam. We’ve created something that is 100 percent free and open to the public and we are very proud.”

We asked Hornig, overseeing the seven-day event, to give us the inside scoop.

How does the festival represent Baltimore?

The cool thing about this event is that two-thirds of the artists are Baltimore based, and debuting new commissions and works of art that will feel authentically Baltimore. It’s a celebration of all things that we love about this city.

Who are some artists to look for?

It’s tough to choose because it’s like asking to choose your favorite child, but there are three pieces that are being created that I think are going to be spectacular. The first is “Glacier” by Riki K. She’s setting up a steel structure that will be a large-scale projection depicting a melting glacier. You’ll be able to walk under the glacier and experience it melting, and pause for a moment of reflection to think about your influence and impact on global warming.

representation of "Glacier," by Riki K. (Photo: Riki K)
Representation of “Glacier,” by Riki K. (Photo: Riki K)
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Tim Scofield and Kyle Miller have created “Peacock,” a large animatronic peacock with feathers that spread over 35 feet across with LED lights. It’s meant to represent old Baltimore because it is made of steel and new Baltimore because of it’s LED lights, representing innovation and Baltimore’s new technology corridor.

Finally, Scott Pennington has created “Plaza,” a playground-like structure referencing the Las Vegas Strip on Pratt Street. It’s got lots of cool buildings that you can interact with, along with a psychedelic light show.

That’s just three of the amazing installations. Over 500 people in total worked creatively on Light City, including artists and speakers and people who worked on production and technology.

How can you see the works of these artists after the festival ends?

All the works at Light City are temporary works of art, but it’s a great opportunity for Baltimore artists to share these works at other light festivals around the world. There’s also Artscape, our annual festival held each summer featuring over 150 local artists.

There will be an "Aquaculture" light projection at the National Aquarium by Kelley Bell and Corrie Parks. (Photo: Kelley Bell and Corrie Parks)
There will be an “Aquaculture” light projection at the National Aquarium by Kelley Bell and Corrie Parks. (Photo: Kelley Bell and Corrie Parks)

I understand that Baltimore’s neighborhoods will be represented during the festival, how so?

We had community meetings before and after the events in April and we heard from these communities loud and clear that in addition to addressing the issues that we are dealing with, and all cities are dealing with, that we use this as an opportunity to shine a light on what’s positive in Baltimore. We worked with the mayor’s office to select five neighborhoods to receive $10,000 grants to work with artists and create installations specific to those neighborhoods.

If you are in town for the festival, what’s one other place that you should visit while in town?

I’d say the American Visionary Art Museum. It’s just steps from the BGE Light Art Walk and it’s the country’s premiere museum dedicated to outsider art. I do a lot of shopping at its museum shop, Sideshow, which has a lot of great jewelry and handbags. You could visit the museum first, during the day and then visit the festival.

What’s your favorite spot to eat in Baltimore and what do you have to order there?

I’m a regular at the Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, just five blocks from the Inner Harbor. I go to Nick’s Seafood where I order the broiled crab cake sandwich with coleslaw and a nice cup of beer.

"Voyage" by Aether & Hemera(Photo: Philip Vile)
“Voyage” by Aether & Hemera(Photo: Philip Vile)

Is there a best way to see the festival?

If you want to do a deep dive of the festival, I recommend doing the self-guided walking tour, which you can do by downloading the festival app. The 1.5 mile-long BGE Light Art Walk has 50 light attractions and there is no gate, so you can come and go and experience the festival any way you like. From Stop 1, it takes 2-3 hours to get to Stop 50.

There are also free docent tours every night on a first-come, first-serve basis. The first tour on Monday is at 9 p.m. and then 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday- Friday from Stop 1, under the LED Ferris Wheel.