Tacoma’s new Light Trail will take you to glowing whales, a flashing dragon and other wonders

Tacoma’s new Light Trail will take you to glowing whales, a flashing dragon and other wonders
A series of whale-themed lanterns by artist Kristian Brevik at the Foss Waterway Seaport. The display is part of the Tacoma Light Trail, a series of displays at about 30 different businesses around the city. Photographed in Tacoma on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (Joshua Besses, The News Tribune)

TACOMA, Wash. — Just in time for the longest nights of the year, a new public art effort is lighting up downtown Tacoma.

The Tacoma Light Trail kicks off Dec. 30 with about 30 locations best seen after dark. More than 50 artists and organizations are involved, and the display comes with a soundtrack.

The event, a first for Tacoma, grew out of the city’s Ocean Fest.

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Ocean Fest organizer Rosemary Ponnekanti, a musician, writer and former art critic for The News Tribune, couldn’t hold her event this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Fortified with a grant from Tacoma Creates, she commissioned artist Kristian Brevik to create a group of whale-themed lanterns. They have been installed inside the Foss Waterway Seaport where they can be seen from outside the building.

The lanterns got Ponnekanti thinking: Why not establish a temporary exhibit of lighted art all over downtown Tacoma?

The Tacoma Light Trail was born.

Ponnekanti enlisted both artists and venues, almost of whom have donated their time for the project. The event runs through Jan. 24. Art pieces will be lighted 5-9 p.m. nightly.

She gave the artists one instruction: Create lighted art installations that uplift and unify the community.

“People have really glommed on to that,” Ponnekanti said. “And so the themes are joy, healing, reconciliation, hope, resilience — things that everybody can agree on.”

Light festivals aren’t new, and traveling Chinese lantern shows have drawn crowds in recent years, including at the Puyallup fairgrounds.

But, this is the COVID era. Ponnekanti thought by spreading the installations along a trail, she could provide an art experience with built-in social distancing.

A complete map is on the Light Trail website at tacomalighttrail.org.

Tacoma light artist Steve LaBerge will have his UFO land at Tollefson Plaza. But his latest creation, The Dragon, will appear inside the lobby of The Pantages Theater at 901 Broadway.

The Dragon was created for Puget Sound Revels’ community parades to promote its movie “Christmas Revels: The Movie!” — the nonprofit arts organization’s response to the ongoing pandemic and its restrictions on entertainment.

At Tacoma event and exhibit space Alma Mater (1322 Fawcett Ave.), projection mapping — a lighted optical illusion — by artist Ulysses Martin will take center stage among other lighted installations.

Upstairs at the Merlino Art Center (508 6th Ave.), Tacoma City Ballet will use its windows to create shadow boxes, each representing a different ballet. The windows will have costumes and set pieces from a variety of productions, including “The Nutcracker”, “Pinocchio The Ballet” and “Dracula The Romantic Ballet”.

Lighted puppets that have appeared previously at First Night will take residency at the Tacoma Youth Theater at 924 Broadway and in a Tacoma School of the Arts window at Broadway and 9th Street.

Ponnekanti hopes the event will draw people to restaurants offering takeout and arts institutions offering COVID-19 safe programming.

The show will have a soundtrack. Using the downloadable smart phone app, Echoes, Light Trail walkers can listen to music, spoken word, sound effects and whatever else artists have chosen for their work.

“And as you walk around and approach different stops on the tour, the audio automatically starts playing,” she said.

“It’s actually probably more important now than ever to bring light art to the community because we really will need something to get us through this time,” Ponnekanti said.

This story was written by The News Tribune.