Brooke Hall and Justin Allen, the married founders of Baltimore-based creative agency What Works Studio and online magazine "What Weekly," have long dreamt of "shining a light" on the innovation and creativity happening in Baltimore. But they didn't know that their aspirations would materialize literally.
The Roland Park husband and wife are ready for the launch of their latest brainchild, Light City Baltimore, billed as the country's first large-scale light festival, featuring a 1.5-mile BGE Light Art Walk and various illuminated art installations, street theater and music performances along the Inner Harbor and in five city neighborhoods.
The creators have been to more than 30 festivals between the two of them (including Hall's trip to Woodstock in 1999) so it's not surprising that the light festival came to mind in 2010 while they were brainstorming an event that would transform the city. They hoped to highlight the aspects they loved most while also inciting community collaboration and economic growth, Hall, 34, said. They envisioned a citywide festival where the streets were the stages and the conferences were future-focused. They pictured dynamic light shows, much along the lines of the Vivid Light Music & Ideas Festival in Sydney, Australia, she said.
"We thought, 'I think this might be it. I don't think this is happening in America. Could Baltimore be the first one?'" Hall said. Allen, 38, said they imagined it having a profitable impact in more ways than one.
"We thought if we could do that year after year, by year five, 10 or even 20, we would see people moving to the city and we would see people moving more businesses here," he said.
They mapped out their vision in 2013, pitching it to potential stakeholders. A year later, the couple connected with entrepreneurs, business owners and local organizations, including the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and Baltimore native and "creatologist" Danny Barnycz, known for his work on major projects throughout the world, including one of the largest video boards in Times Square. Flash forward to 2016, and more than 500 people from the Baltimore area are working to make Light City come to life.
Getting the community "stamp" of approval was vital, Allen said.
"Over two-thirds of all the artists who have gotten grants are from Baltimore. We wanted to make sure the core values and identity of Light City are of the city. We held community meetings all over Baltimore to get input from anybody who wanted to have input into the festival," said Allen.
Monday is opening night, but the creators said they can't decide what is the most exciting aspect of their festival. The list of around 140 speakers scheduled to attend the festival's four ticketed innovation conferences still makes Allen's jaw drop, and it's hard to keep track of the various concerts and over 100 performances, he said. But seeing it all with his wife and two children will be a highlight.
"My 3-year-old is now creating long-term memories. ... This is how he's going to remember Baltimore," Allen said.
And his 9-month-old? "She's just going to sit there slack-jawed with her eyes open wide, not knowing what's going on," Allen said. "But that's OK."