Everybody knows that in the Financial District, the sidewalks are rolled up after 7 p.m., after all the workers have gone home. And everybody knows that nothing is more depressing than a cold, dark night in Boston.
Well, not for two nights in December.
For the fifth consecutive year, Illuminus, described as “Boston’s free nighttime contemporary art and light festival,” will brighten the dark streets and bring some needed holiday cheer in the form of light-filled art installations occupying multiple square blocks of downtown Boston.
Illuminus explodes onto the scene Dec. 5 and 6 at 100 Summer St., just a five-minute walk from both South Station and Downtown Crossing MBTA station.
The event will transform buildings into artworks as more than 15 artists who work with light and technology will display their immersive, interactive creations for an expected crowd of 50,000.
In past years, some installations have had political meanings, with artists focusing on immigration, gender, sexuality, the devaluation of female bodies, race, and access to healthcare, all expressed not through traditional art media like painting and sculpture, but instead through cutting-edge uses of technology and light.
At the same time, other experiences are strictly aesthetic in nature, inviting visitors to experience what it’s like to literally step into a piece of music; to find the connection between physics, art, and sound; and to explore a “remix” in sound and light of Revolutionary-era Boston writers to make them relevant to locals today.
Many of the installations invite participation from visitors, which makes Illuminus a unique opportunity to make art and interact with people around it.
“Going to a museum isn’t usually a social activity,” said Lyn Burke, co-founder and executive director of LuminArtz, the partner organization to Illuminus. “But here, you interact not only with the art, drawing, painting, and shifting the light that transforms the buildings downtown. But you also get to interact with the other attendees, so it’s a fun way to meet new people.”
One of the installations last year, Burke recalled, was a super-sized, glowing heart, only half of which lit up when one person entered into it.
“When two people would stand together and hug,” Burke said, “the whole heart filled with light. And when groups of people came together under it, it got brighter and brighter and changed colors. So it was this great piece of art that brought groups of people together. It was great for selfies, and we actually even had a wedding proposal happen under the heart.”
Burke said that not all light-based art is of the 21st century, cutting edge variety.
“There was an installation last year at a Worcester museum that projected master works by painters like Monet onto strips of silk,” Burke said, “and kids could literally run with them – which you can’t do in a ‘real’ museum. They took pictures and shared them with their friends.
“In a technology-based world, we’ve got to capture the attention of these younger people who are living on their phones, and this was a way to show them what Monets look like. So there’s a sense of connection and fun that comes from light and technology installations that you don’t get elsewhere in the art world.”
This year represents the first time Illuminus will light up the Financial District.
“Most people don’t realize that more than 12,000 people call the Financial District their home,” said Rosemarie Sansone, president and CEO of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, which will co-present with LuminArtz in conjunction with Illuminus, to bring the event to life.
“The Financial District is a vibrant and growing community, and it’s a part of town that many New Englanders have never even experienced. So this is the time to come and see how cool downtown Boston really is. And people who come out of their offices on the nights of the event will have a very exciting surprise awaiting them.”
Unlike traditional artwork, which can be displayed for years or even millennia after its creation, art and technology installations vanish when the festival ends. So if you can find your way downtown for either evening of this year’s Illuminus, you will bask in the glow of a million points of light. The alternative? Cursing the darkness, and there’s no fun, human connection, or aesthetic delight in doing that.