Portland Artists Enchanting the Winter Lights Festival
Recognizing the Remarkable Efforts of Those Who Brought Us The Beloved Festival

Futuristic image of neon lights in geometric shapes
image by Courtney Jeffs

From February 1st – 10th, over one hundred events took place across the Portland area to celebrate the annually beloved, Portland Winter Light Festival. 

All who visited Downtown Portland witnessed the streets bursting to life with golden light decorations in dedication to the festival. Hundreds of artists, performers, and contributors alike hosted a variety of creative events, bringing light throughout every night of the festival.

Enthusiasm for the brilliant art made to commence the light festival spread over the Willamette River with the Morrison Bridge aglow. For these ten days, Portland residents enjoyed enchanting displays of illuminating art, public events, performances, and so much more. 

Throughout the city, string lights and glowing ornaments draped the Park Blocks, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, bridges, building windows, and trees all leading towards the heart of the festival, Pioneer Courthouse Square. Here, hundreds gathered to enjoy the fascinating light displays created by Portland’s most innovative artists combining technology with their muses, surrounding this year’s theme, What Glows Under Pressure.

At Pioneer Courthouse Square, many artists held their impressive works for the theme of the festival. Brilliant interactive pieces like Tim Holloway’s “Fiery Flowers and Zen Garden” were among the art bursting with flames. Holloway’s piece captivated many with its three unfurled red flowers erupting with fire while snakes of flames raked through the zen garden beneath.

In addition to Holloway’s exciting creation, “Smaug,” the fire-breathing dragon by artists Ame and Jim Beard, was a memorable experience for festival goers who visited the Square. Created with recycled material such as old currency, jewelry, and bones, Smaug roars with fire igniting the chilly night air with a heavenly glow. 

Along with these pieces, many of the art exhibits demonstrate the spectacular creative spirit of local Portland artists. Another display of note was the “Fleur de Lux” (flower of light) sculpture by the local artist group, KinScript who used technology to bring their sculpture into bloom for the beloved Light Festival. 

“During the day, ambient sunlight filters through a series of 150 colorful and translucent acrylic portals, illuminating the work like stained glass” describes the Portland Winter Lights Festival website. “At night, the sculpture’s canopy transforms into a dazzling electrified light show featuring over 3,000 addressable LEDs.”

Of course, the Light Festival art was not exclusive to sculptures like the ones displayed at Pioneer Courthouse Square. The festival also included dozens of shows and performances throughout the city that allowed audiences to experience visual arts in dance, creation, and other vibrant productions.

One noteworthy event, hosted by drag queen Sequin McQueen and a dozen other talented drag artists, the LED Drag was a magnificent performance produced by the local Rose City Drag at the Westside Cart Blocks. Audiences were amazed, watching performers dancing with phenomenal light-up outfits and equipment under strings of pale yellow and pink glowing lanterns. 

With these dazzling sights, many festival goers were in awe by all the wonders hundreds of local artists, performers, and contributors brought to us for this year’s Winter Light Festival. But it’s no surprise that Portland artists have given us light during the coldest times of the year. In fact, it’s worthwhile to mention the contributions Portland artists provide to our city as well as Portland’s unique connection with light.

More renowned for being the City of Roses, Portland has a more obscure but intimate relationship with light. Remaining lit long after the light festival, Tilikum Crossing Bridge is a significant piece of Portland’s love for art and innovation. 

Nicknamed, “Bridge of the People”, the Trimet website describes the unique symbolic contribution this bridge provides to the beautiful city. Not only improving the pedestrian commuting experience by providing “better access to important destinations such as PSU, OHSU, the Central Eastside, and OMSI”, Tilikum Crossing was designed to compliment the city’s relationship with the Willamette River.

Artists Anna Valentina Murch and Doug Hollis are the creators behind the bridge’s fascinating iridescent color and light display. With the “specialized software designed by programmer Morgan Barnard,” the bridge’s lights are directly determined by the Willamette River. Where warmer temperatures influence pigments like red or orange, colder days warrant shades of blue, green, and violet. The dance of shifting colors is also influenced by the height of the river’s tide, giving Portland a spectacular light display all year round.

Remembering the mystical and wondrous experience our community brought to us for the Portland Light Festival, it’s hard not to be excited for next year’s events to come. With local artists giving us special light on the hope of our year ahead out of the winter months, let’s enjoy the brilliant experiences Portland and its artists have to offer throughout our days onward.

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