The electronic arts and light festival Lights On Tampa returns to downtown on Feb. 20 and 21, 2015. The program, begun in 2006 and reprised in 2009, 2011 and 2012, commissions new artworks to illuminate the city’s landscape during the event and, in some cases, year ’round. Last year, it got a $50,000 boost from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In February, the city will debut seven projects — six temporary and one permanent — by a combination of local and visiting artists in and around the vicinity of a new segment of Tampa’s Riverwalk that links Kennedy Boulevard to Kiley Gardens and Curtis Hixon Park. The section should be complete by then, says City of Tampa Arts Program Manager Robin Nigh.
“It’s going to be one of the strongest Lights On Tampa,” Nigh says.
The best known of the 2015 artists is Chicago-based Nick Cave (not to be confused with the Australian musician), whose elaborate sculptural “soundsuits” — the colorful love children of haute couture, thrift stores and multicultural ceremonial garb — are worn in dance performances to noise-making effect.
Lights On will feature a remake of Cave’s “Heard,” which he previously staged at Grand Central Station in New York City and at the Denver Art Museum. Sixty local dancers will wear animal-themed suits, e.g., horses with shaggy raffia manes, during two performances — one on each night of Lights On. Integrating light into the display is a new, Tampa-specific development that Cave is in the process of working out, Nigh says.
Other planned projects include a walkable field of LED-topped posts of varying heights that correspond to the tidal rhythms of the Hillsborough River, by Chicago-based design collaborative Luftwerk; flexible LED furniture by Urban Conga, a homegrown group led by USF architecture grad Ryan Swanson; and “Sky Striker,” which would light up the Sykes building like a carnival-style high striker when visitors make contact with a responsive base, proposed by Tampa firm Traction Architecture.
The city itself will run UP-LIT, a billboard-sized sign spelling out a juried selection of texts submitted by local writers through an open call, which Nigh hopes will remain in place through the spring season of Gasparilla arts events.
The seventh, permanent proposed project is causing some controversy. As a complement to “Agua Luces,” the colorful lighting under downtown bridges that was installed for Lights On Tampa 2012, St. Petersburg firm Wannemacher Jensen Architects is scheduled to build in similar lighting underwater and along the seawall of the new Riverwalk segment.
To complete the project, the city wants to remove a competing sight: the crew-team graffiti that stretches along the seawall near Kennedy Boulevard.
Last week the City Council split on whether to hand over $40,000 that Mayor Buckhorn has requested to pay for the cleaning, with some council members defending the graffiti as a unique component of Tampa’s visual landscape and others pointing to profanity in the graffiti as unsuitable for families. The issue comes up for decision again on Aug. 21.
Nigh says she is not opposed to graffiti in general. But she emphasized that the graffiti removal along the Riverwalk is intended to maximize the impact of the light installation.
“People are not thinking of how that looks lit at night. If you want a 24-7 city, and if you want all that engagement down there, it is not aesthetically pleasing,” Nigh says.