Light City Baltimore announces key speakers for 2017 festival

LED lights emit multiple colors of the installation, "Voyage, " by Aether & Hemera, floating at Pier 5 for the 2016 Light City Baltimore festival.

Despite the legal troubles that have threatened to dim the luster of Light City Baltimore, organizers are amping up the wattage for next year's weeklong celebration of innovation and the visual arts.

On Friday, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts announced an expanded presence for conference portion of the festival designed to devise solutions to social ills.


The 2017 event will be held from Friday, March 31 through Saturday, April 8, though the conference component won't begin until Monday, April 3.

The six-day conference -- the only part of the festival to carry an admission price -- has broadened its focus to include education and food, joining the original four topics: health, social change, the environment and creativity.


"Education was really a natural topic for us to explore given all of the education innovation leaders who live and work in Baltimore," said Kathy Hornig, the organization's festivals director. "It was kind of a no-brainer.

"And food reflects a core innovation community that's growing in Baltimore."

Conference headliners announced Friday will include Baltimore authors Alec Ross, ("The Industries of the Future,"); D. Watkins ("The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America" and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir"); the Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee ("The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer"); the spoken-word poet Donovan Livingston, whose address at Harvard University earlier this year went viral; the best-selling author and blogger Luvvie Ajayi, who recently appeared at The Baltimore Book Festival; and celebrity chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson.

Hornig added that the conference's name has been changed from Light City U. to Labs@Light City to emphasize that conference participants are instrumental in devising solutions to social ills.

"There is a place for TED talks, and Light City will have some of those," Hornig said. "But we see the dialogue between festival attendees and speakers as key."

Though the conference carries a relatively hefty admission price -- $149 to attend one lab, and $99 for each additional lab -- community members who can't afford tickets can apply to be attend for free by visiting

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In addition, the 2017 festival's Neighborhood Lights program will grow from five neighborhoods to eight, Hornig said, and the grant for creating an immersive community art programming is increasing from $10,000 to $15,000.

In 2017, the Sandtown-Winchester, Hamilton-Lauraville and Waverly neighborhoods also will be part of Neighborhood Lights.


Hornig acknowledged that there's some overlap between Light City, which is held in late winter, and the Book Festival, which occurs in late September. Both events feature authors who write about innovative ideas. But Hornig said there's a difference in focus.

Though the innovation conference is part of Light City, it's not the main event, which next year will feature two dozen light installations along the Inner Harbor. The roster of artists who will create the installations will be announced in December, she said, while the full schedule of events will be released in January.

In October, the city filed a lawsuit in federal court against Brooke and Justin Allen, the married couple who came up with the idea for the festival. The dispute regards who owns the name, logo and other parts of the event and could take months, if not years, to resolve.

Both sides have said they don't want the legal uncertainties to interfere with planning for the 2017 festival.

"My mantra is bigger, better, bolder and brighter," Hornig said. "We can't wait for the public to learn about all the exciting things we're planning for next year's festival."