Nearly 400,000 come for Light City Baltimore

Attendance at inaugural Light City exceeded organizers' expectations.

Nearly 400,000 people piled into the Inner Harbor and several Baltimore neighborhoods for the inaugural Light City Festival — a weeklong interactive art walk that featured light displays, talks, music and other performances.

The free event concluded on Sunday.

"In a first-year festival you really never know what you are going to get, but it definitely significantly exceeded our expectations," said William B. Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

The attendance was 100,000 more visitors than planners expected, according to Gilmore's office.

The event was conceived by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen of What Works Studio and organized by Gilmore's office.

Modeled after Australia's 18-day Vivid Sydney festival, the Light City Festival featured an animatronic peacock, hundreds of illuminated sculptures resembling a flotilla of paper boats, "lighted" cotton candy and a free concert by Baltimore musician Dan Deacon.

Allen said that he didn't have any crowd expectations for the festival, and felt overwhelmed on the first day when he looked across the harbor from a pavilion near Rash Field and saw the huge gathering of people.

"All along the promenade it was just filled with people," Allen said.

A private firm will analyze the economic impact of the event, said Jamie McDonald, who co-chaired the festival. Results should be available in four to six weeks.

Anecdotally, she said, restaurants were packed with people and some ran out of food.

"You could just tell by looking through the windows that they were just mobbed," McDonald said.

Five Guys was bustling Sunday, and workers said it had been like that all week. Erin Coyle, service manager at Family Meal restaurant at the Inner Harbor, said business there was also booming all week, especially for weeknights. People packed tables for dinner and the bar for drinks.

That came as a pleasant surprise. They hadn't known what to expect.

"We would definitely welcome Light City back," Coyle said.

The organizers said the event benefited from the start of the spring season and families looking for places to visit during the weeklong break after Easter. Word also spread on social media.

Jaime Harpster said she saw the lights from her seat on the plane while flying back from vacation. Pictures posted by friends on Instagram convinced the 37-year-old Cockeysville woman that she needed to bring her three daughters to the festivities.

"It's the last night," she said. "We had to get out here."

A ticketed event called LightCityU brought thinkers from education, public health and other fields to the UMBC Columbus Center at the Inner Harbor to brainstorm ideas for social change.

A stage at Harbor East as well as a DJ-focused "Club Light City" area at West Shore Park featured performances by musical groups and deejays.

The park turned into an outdoor party Sunday as DJ Lil Mic played old- and new-school R&B and hip hop and led the crowd in line dances.

"I told you we're gonna party at Light City," he said, pumping up the crowd.

Sharon Bea, 47, was among those shaking her hips to the music. She came out with her 5-year-old granddaughter after seeing photos on Instagram.

"It's a good time," she said.

Others packed around a magic show and live performers who combined painting with dancing.

Allen and Hall, who are married to each other, had worked for three years to bring the festival to Baltimore. They had wanted to present a positive, unified image of the city.

"I would like to see it become a citywide celebration," Allen said. "We imagined that over time it will spread throughout Baltimore and it will be an event that all Baltimore residents celebrate."

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

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