Know Before You Go
Portland Winter Light Festival returns Feb 2-10, 2024, at various locations throughout the city instead of in a centralized location. The festival’s theme in 2024 is Glowing Under Pressure, exploring the mysteries of the deep sea and inspired by bioluminescent wonders. Visit the Portland Winter Light Festival’s website for maps of installation locations.
For a few nights each year, the Portland Winter Light Festival transforms the City of Roses into a city of lights. Designed to bring light to the wintry darkness, this free festival returns every winter season with imaginative works that combine light and technology to create interactive experiences.
“We’re doing it to bring people together and also to bring people out of the dark,” says Festival Artistic Director Chris Herring. “We are trying to be the stepping stone to spring.”
The fifth iteration of the Portland Winter Light Festival in 2020 showcased 114 illuminated art installations, dozens of performances and live events, educational programming and mesmerizing kinetic fire sculptures throughout the city. The festival’s 150,000 attendees enjoyed a silent disco, an illuminated nighttime bike ride and lantern parade, live ice carving, dance performances and more.
In 2024, repeating the success of the previous year’s festival format, organizers have created a decentralized footprint, allowing attendees more space and time to view installations and encouraging people to embrace the spirit of discovery and choose their own paths to explore the installations.
More About the Winter Light Festival
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Wait, the festival is outside in the winter?
The renewable-energy-powered festival is an extension of the Willamette Light Brigade, a nonprofit that’s been lighting Portland’s bridges since 1987. The mission of the Portland Winter Light Festival is to build community by bringing art and technology to inclusive audiences while invigorating Portland in the winter.
Inspired by European celebrations like the Festival of Lights in Lyon, France — an annual event that Herring says “blew his mind” when he attended in 2007 — the Portland Winter Light Festival combines creativity with various forms of light. Artworks might feature fire, tungsten lights, and LED lights, along with the playful use of reflections and shadows.
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Herring says that while the festival has no restrictions on installation size, artists must follow one rule: No white light. That ubiquitous shade is considered harsher and less aesthetically pleasing than other light forms. “The lighting that America uses all the time is super utilitarian,” he says. “The technology’s here to make it dynamic. You can create your own world.”
Artists throughout Cascadia (Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alaska, Idaho, and Northern California) submit proposals for these displays to a volunteer committee months in advance. During the festival, the chosen artists are on hand to speak with festival-goers and answer questions about their work.
“The [festival] has become a favorite wintertime destination for [our] community,” Herrings says. “And nothing showcases that more than our ability to bring in artists and performers from around the region.”
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