Lights Festival

This year’s primary cold weather festival will be a celebration of light, replacing the established Ice Fest as organizers the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) look to try something different between Thanksgiving and the holiday season. 

This year, the DIA will be featuring a lights display and a series of pop-up events spread over a week and a half, called the Winter Light Festival, a significant change from the normal weekend of non-stop activities that mark local festivals. The event lasts from Dec. 5 to Dec. 15. 

“It’s a brand new idea that the organization came up with to try to put a new face on our winter festival that we do this time of year,” DIA Executive Director Gary Ferguson said. “The idea is to feature light. We really wanted to showcase downtown, and do it in a way that got people interested in coming down and seeing something new and different.”

With the light sculpture exhibition, officially called Prismatica, open for 10 days, the DIA has much more time to fill, which inspired them to opt for the series of smaller pop-up events. Those will include the familiar, like the Chowder Cook-Off and Santa’s Arrival on the Commons, and new features as well, like the lightsaber tournament, a glow bar, Prismatica (which consists seven foot tall light installations by RAW Design and ATOMIC3 and headquartered in Montreal), and a glow in the dark night parade on Dec. 14. A full schedule of events can be found online. 

“In order to cover that kind of time frame, having lots of smaller events made a whole lot of sense,” Ferguson said. DIA Special Events Coordinator Scott Rougeau said he was most excited for the lightsaber invitational on Dec. 13. 

Perhaps the main advantage is the display’s resistance to temperature. In years past, the ice sculptures, which were expensive to bring to town, could last up to a week or more if the weather cooperated; but with uneven, changing temperatures, it had become more likely that early December would come with temperatures well above freezing, which meant the pricey ice sculptures might only last a little more than a day or two. Plus, of course, anyone who strolled the Commons to view the ice sculptures also knows that they were often a target of vandalism by the late-night bar crowd, shortening their lifespan even more. 

“A lot of people like the ice carving, it was popular and it was amazing to watch,” Ferguson said. “But the climate was changing, and it was extremely variable. We were spending a lot of money, crossing our fingers and hoping that we wouldn’t get 70 degree days, just watching our investment melt before our eyes. That got a little trying.”

Ferguson and Rougeau sound satisfied with the changes that have been made, though it seems that the Ice Festival was uniquely suited for change, in that other festivals will likely not see such significant tweaks to their schedules. The extended time will also allow for a bit more variety, Ferguson said, letting attendees pick and choose what appeals to them and what doesn’t. 

“We don’t have to keep people’s attention for 10 or 11 days, people will come to some things and not other things,” Ferguson said. “The intent is for people to come and go, to do this at their leisure. [...] It’s mix and match, you make it work for you.”

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