Neighborhood Lights — the first leg of Baltimore's Light City festival — takes center stage

From the upper stories of the Bromo Seltzer arts tower to Darley Park, Baltimore kicked off Neighborhood Lights — the first leg of the larger Light City festival — with displays of illuminated artwork, some with an otherworldly feel.

In Darley Park, residents gathered Saturday at a stage and projection wall to hear musicians and watch digital artwork and photography that an organizer called “futuristic and cosmic-inspired.”

The 107-year-old Bromo tower showcased a number of light-themed art pieces, including one in which vintage, cobalt-blue bottles were lit up — some blinking, some still, some changing colors.

In Mount Vernon, little girls came dressed as colorful princesses at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s 16th annual Fairy Tale Extravaganza — which this year incorporated themes of light. “We’ve added a tree house that is all lit up,” said library spokeswoman Meghan McCorkell. “And we have sun catchers,” she added, referring to kite-shaped tissue-paper designs created by the kids.

Neighborhood Lights is designed to allow 14 neighborhoods — up from eight last year — their own showcase before the giant Light City Festival begins in earnest on April 14, running through April 21. Illuminated art installations will line the area around the Inner Harbor; Grandmaster Flash — a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his group, the Furious Five — headlines this year’s musical lineup.

In the past, Neighborhood Lights and the main festival “happened at the same time,” said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotions & the Arts, which organizes the festival. “This year, people can focus on the neighborhoods without having to choose: ‘Do I go to a neighborhood event or do I go to the Inner Harbor?’ ”

The shift is in keeping with the city’s push to better promote areas removed from the downtown. The #MyBmore social media campaign — intended to uplift the narrative about the city — has been emphasizing less-heralded areas and activities. The campaign is sponsored by Visit Baltimore, the quasi-public tourism agency.

Neighborhood Lights opened Friday night with a series of events, including small parades and music.

The Bromo tower was bathed in multi-colored light. “It looked like a beacon to all of Light City,” Baskerville said.

Art studios inside the tower feature work by artist Ernie Dimler (the illuminated blue bottles) and Sean Michael Kenny.

Other neighborhoods participating include Federal Hill, where a parade was held and long-exposure photographs made by neighborhood residents using light “brushes” were displayed. In Little Italy, the Stiles Street bocce courts were illuminated with a canopy of repurposed materials, projected video and light.

The Fairy Tale Extravaganza is not part of Neighborhood Lights, but is among a dozen neighborhoods entered in a contest called the Brilliant Baltimore Community Showcase. Participating communities submit photos of their attractions, and viewers vote for their favorite neighborhood on lightcity.org. The winner receives $2,018 to be used for a community event or initiative.

The fairy tale festival, which was held at the Maryland Historical Society, would doubtless score high on the “adorable” meter. There was face-painting and an oversized story book open to a page reading: “Once upon a time, in a land far far away ...”

“We have lights and we have children dressed up as princesses and princes,” McCorkell said. “All we need now is puppies.”

Among the visitors was Tessa Morrison, 6, who came in a yellow dress and was photographed in a gold-colored “throne.”

“She’ll tell you she is a princess who wants to be a geologist,” said Jill Morrison, her mother. “She’s princess-scientist.”

An earlier vision misstated the artist who created the illuminated blue bottles piece. The Sun regrets the error.

jebarker@baltsun.com

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