Photograph by Natalie Parkhurst

Annual festival lights up Portland community

Spread throughout the city, the Portland Winter Light Festival returned this year for another spectacular display of light installations and community. From Feb. 4 to Feb. 12, the nine-day festival offered dozens of luminous works of art for people of all ages to enjoy, as well as music, scheduled events and food to brighten the night.

The Light Festival has become an annual attraction in Portland, growing each year to encompass more of the city. Started by the Willamette Light Brigade (WLB) in 2016, the festival has always been targeted toward bringing people together through art. WLB is a non-profit dedicated towards lighting Portland’s most iconic bridges that span the Willamette River, and continued their pursuit of providing people with dazzling lights through the festival.

According to their website, their mission in delivering such a spectacular event every year is to “provide significant economic and cultural stimulation to Portland during the darkest time of year.”

The free festival has slowly expanded over the years, and was forced to adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not one to shy away  from a challenge, WLB changed the format of the festival in 2021 to promote social distancing, expanding the areas covered by light installations and increasing the duration of the event. Normally held over two days and in one or two central spots, the 2021  celebration was instead offered over the course of two weekends and was spread across different areas of the city. Marketed as a “non festival,” the event offered a safe way to celebrate art and the Portland community.

This COVID-19-safe mentality carried over to this year’s event, as over 100 light installations were spread on either side of the river, covering six areas of Portland to decrease large gatherings. The widespread nature of this year’s festival was also for accessibility purposes, as the organizers wanted to place an emphasis that the event is for everyone. 

As this year’s theme was “Within the Ecosystem,” the  focus of the festival was exploring the city through nature inspired art. Organizers accomplished this by involving local businesses and placing lights in their storefronts, such as Planet x Vintage at Southeast 35th and Belmont, or Revolutions Bookshop just a couple blocks away from Cathedral Park in North Portland. With installations located in both metro and suburban locations, festival goers were encouraged to traverse Portland at their own pace, exploring parts that might otherwise be overlooked. 

The light festival showcased a range of attractions for people of all ages, and offerings varied from location to location. The three main anchor spots — Pioneer Courthouse Square, World Trade Center downtown and Electric Blocks at Southeast Second Avenue and Clay Street — offered food carts and interactive events to entertain visitors throughout the night. The festival also provided scheduled events, such as silent discos and an illuminated bike ride through the city. 

The Portland Winter Light Festival is a free, fun event that encourages people to explore the city while interacting with art and community members. A now established institution that adds to Portland’s bright and colorful atmosphere, make sure to mark your calendars for next year’s exposition of art, music and community.

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