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Portland winter Light Festival: A Bright Idea For the Southeast Riverfront


By A.L. Adams

Does Portland have an emerging “brilliance district” around its southeast riverfront? A case could be made. The long-established home of Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), this area has more recently attracted such luminary arts groups as Portland Opera and All Classical Portland to set up shop nearby, and has been further brightened by last summer’s addition of the Tilikum Crossing—a new pedestrian-friendly bridge with lights that change color as the Willamette River conditions change.


Trading on this area’s growing reputation as a place where science and the arts converge and shine, the Portland Winter Lights Festival will illuminate OMSI February 1–4, promising to “showcase unique light-based art, engage Portland’s diverse communities, and create remarkable opportunities for artists, makers, performers, and technology innovators.” What better time of year to highlight their handiwork than the short, dark days of winter, just after the last of the city’s Christmas lights have gone out?

This free festival is an initiative of Willamette Light Brigade, a group on a mission to design and install unique decorative lighting on each of Portland’s many bridges. It’s easy to see how holding a community event so close to the relatively new Tilikum Crossing may help WLB prove how lighting up a bridge contributes to a neighborhood’s vitality. With OMSI hosting and area businesses participating, there is po-ential for all Water Avenue area businesses to become better acquainted with their neighbors, including several of the Southeast’s most popular food carts, AFRU Gallery, and various other art partners. And to accommodate tourists, the Central Eastside’s Jupiter Hotel will offer special festival deals and discounts.


The theme for this year’s festival is “Between the river and the stars,” and with the complete line-up still to come, Portlanders of all ages can anticipate a hearty feast for the senses at this second-annual event. Interactive installations by pro- fessional artists with such intriguing titles as Human Light Chimes and Color Optic Poofs will line the Eastbank Esplanade, while performance artists bring circus-style revelry with drums, fire, and internally-lit aliens. And, if you’ve yet to experience the phenomenon of “Silent Disco,” your time has come. OMSI will host a series of casual Light/Science talks in which speakers will share their knowledge and experience on topics of light within science, technology, industry, and art. Of course, no Portland festival is complete without a cycle-related component, and the PWLF is no exception. Clever Cycles welcomes riders and spectators to join a three-mile Illuminated Bike Ride on Friday, Feb. 3. The festival closes on Saturday, Feb. 4 with a whimsical Art Lantern Parade—a glowing procession of light, color, and creativity that’s sure to embody the spirit of winter and the warmth of community.