Lights on Tampa will sparkle with new art, performances

Downtown Tampa comes alive Friday and Saturday with Lights on Tampa, an outdoor art display where creativity shines brightly.
Published February 17 2015

Lights! Camera phones! Action!

On Friday and Saturday, downtown Tampa will bask in the glow of Lights on Tampa, a free outdoor public art display that has become a signature event since its debut in 2006. This year's Lights will have seven installations and performances, all concentrated in the parks and riverfront off Ashley Drive, so the public can easily access all of them without a lot of walking.

The event has enjoyed such a reputation for creativity and innovation that it has attracted the attention of other cities considering replicating it, and representatives from several, including San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, are expected to come and see this year's displays, says Robin Nigh, manager of art programs for the city of Tampa.

Nigh says it's evolving into a "whole-arts platform" that includes music, dance, even the written word, though the focus remains on the dramatic light installations. She says Lights is also becoming more interactive, with "the overall theme this year being engagement."

For example, visitors can pick up variously shaped light boxes to make and remake fantastical constructions, play a monumental version of the carnival game High Striker and join in improvisational dancing projected onto large screens.

The Lights on Tampa budget for 2015 is about $500,000, Nigh says, with 50 percent from the city, 40 percent in private donations and 10 percent from grants. It's money well spent.

Here's the lineup.

'Urban Pixels' by Urban Conga of Tampa

Play with light boxes in tetrahedral shapes (think pyramids) scattered about in Curtis Hixon Park, meant to be arranged in groupings to create new forms. The installation, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Rays, will move to Tropicana Field after Lights.

'HEARD — TAMPA' by Nick Cave of Chicago

Having Nick Cave for Lights is a big deal. He's a nationally respected artist best known for his Soundsuits, wearable body suits made from and embellished with all kinds of colorful materials. (Three of them are on display at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in a new exhibition.) HEARD is a performance piece with 30 prancing "horses" made of colorful raffia that swishes and fluffs gloriously as two dancers in each costume perform. Versions of HEARD have been staged in various locations, including New York's Grand Central Terminal. For Tampa, Cave has choreographed a work with original music and 60 local dancers becoming the 30 horses. Kids especially will love it. Performances each night are at 6:30 and 8:30. Cave, by the way, is not the Bad Seeds rocker of the same name.

'Shadow Plays' by the Creative Movement Company of St. Petersburg (not shown)

This was a big hit at the 2013 Lights and returns with performers engaging visitors to join in the shadow movements projected onto large screens.

'River Glow' by Wannemacher Jensen Architects of St. Petersburg (on the cover)

If the name sounds familiar, it's because the firm is on the shortened list of potential designers for the new Pier in St. Petersburg. River Glow is an underwater installation on the Hillsborough River. Green and blue lights will glow underwater, designed to attract fish that can be seen swimming around them. After Lights on Tampa, it will be reinstalled when the Riverwalk project is completed, in about six months, Nigh estimates.

Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

'Uplit,' with words by poet Sylvia Curbelo, fabrication by Sign Art Group

For the first time, written art will be incorporated into the event. "Can You Stand Perfectly Still and Hold This Moment Open" is from a poem by Tampa poet Sylvia Curbelo. Chrys Hanes of Sign Art Group says that "basically it's dimensional letters working LED lights into a 23-foot-tall frame" that will overlook Curtis Hixon Park. "You'll be able to see it across the river, but the place is the Tampa Museum of Art" across the park, she says.

'Recurrence' by Luftwerk of Chicago

This creative team designed a temporary light installation at the Tampa Museum of Art in 2014 and is well known nationally for its design work. Luftwerk is installing 84 LED light rods in a grid in Kiley Gardens that conforms to the tidal flow of the Hillsborough River but is compressed so that one hour represents 24 in real time. The work will have an original score accompanying the lights' fluctuations.

'Sky Striker' by Traction Architecture, designed by Freeman Company of Tampa

Remember that old muscle-mettle game High Striker, in which participants use a mallet to send a puck up a pole, striking a bell if hit hard enough? This installation has the mallets, pucks and a gigantic pole known as Rivergate Tower, the circular office building on Ashley Drive. Instead of a bell, lights have been rigged in four of the floors to activate depending on the strength of the hit. The lights will be reset for each participant.