For many years Light Night Leeds was a DIY / grass roots arts festival with local arts organisations staying open late and putting on special projects. The event started in 2005 from an idea by the Arts Development staff at Leeds City Council, inspired by the Nuit Blanche style events that began in Paris. It was seen as a way to celebrate all the creative work going on in the city by having one special night each year to showcase local artists and performers, as well as provide after-hours access to local cultural venues.
Over the past 5 years the event has built significantly, becoming one of the largest arts and light festivals in the UK. Activity is now spread across the city centre, from the University to the Southbank, Quarry Hill to the Civic Quarter, with some of the city’s most iconic landmarks and public spaces transformed by a mix of international, national and local artists. It has become a highly anticipated event in the city and an apt way to move into the autumn and winter seasons.
We like to think that Light Night creates an exciting urban playground where people can experience something very different in familiar surroundings. We love the idea of using light and dark to create exciting and spectacular collective experiences, presenting work in a unique vision. There are projects of varying scales, including projections on buildings, interactive installations, live performances and exhibitions. The biggest challenge every year is making sure over 60 events and performances run smoothly all at the same time!
There are many times when I have come up with a crazy idea and despite a bit of eye rolling the amazing team of staff, collaborators and volunteers make it work. In 2015 there was the light and water projection of a whale that we did on the River Aire in 2015. Last year we made a 3D fire breathing dragon appear on the front of the Queen’s Hotel, which disrupted the City Square area in a fantastically unexpected way. It’s always very gratifying when audiences respond to something positively.
The contrast between light and dark – what Italians refer to as Chiaroscuro – occurs in all aspects of life. For us, the use of light and dark at Light Night is all about creating atmospheres, moments of awe and wonder, and provoking new ways of thinking and reflection. This year will see lots of great new artworks related to our festival theme of Mind, Body and Spirit, with more spectacular projections, interactive installations and performances.
Leeds has a loyal and incredibly diverse audience, which is reflected at Light Night. The fact that it is free and takes place in public spaces and buildings mean that people take a chance on even the most weird and wacky of projects or unfamiliar art-forms. The atmosphere in the city changes significantly, with over 80,000 people attending events across the 2 nights, which kicks off with a large illuminated parade through the streets. It’s great to see families out in the city centre during the evening as opposed to just the usual pubs and clubs crowd.
These types of events raise the aspirations of a city, help make it a great place to live and work and spread the word. They are a way to showcase the talents of people in Leeds as well as bringing artists and interest from across the world. Light Night provokes a lot of pride in the city and has received increasing attention outside of here too. Leeds is really putting itself on the map of world class cultural experiences.