Lighted inflatables, art exhibits, Merriweather performances planned for Columbia’s 50th

When making plans for Columbia's 50th birthday celebration, organizers wanted to focus on the communities and how to celebrate them, according to Marlys East, managing director of the nonprofit Columbia 50th Birthday Celebration. Throughout the 27-week celebration, a variety of events, including art shows, musical performances, lectures and more, will highlight the many faces of Columbia.

Festivities begin on March 19 at the Mall in Columbia with a proclamation by County Executive Allan Kittleman and a performance of the national anthem by Toby's Kids.


"We will have the 10 villages of Columbia designated with representatives carrying banners," East said. "We have a great partnership with the mall. Right now it is our Main Street."

After the proclamation in the outdoor courtyard, the mall will host activities for all ages inside, in what East says is "wall-to-wall entertainment."


An exhibit of Gail Holliday's posters advertising Columbia's ideals will open on March 20 at Slayton House in Wilde Lake. Holliday, a graphic artist, was hired by Rouse and "given free reign" to create images that spoke of Columbia's vision, according to Barbara Kellner, director of Columbia Archives. Holliday, a California native, also created posters that advertized businesses in the village centers. The show at Sayton House will feature about a dozen of Holliday's works, Kellner said, some of which have "not been on display since the early days of Columbia."

"They are real nice vibrant colors," said Kellner. "They just really spoke to the newness and visionary goals of Columbia. People will be able to revisit them and enjoy them."

Organizers of the 50th birthday wanted to add a special attraction to the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June, East said.

"We were looking for something that would be different, colorful, age-friendly, disability friendly, something to cover all the bases," she said. "Something somebody else is not doing."


The group had discussed a Ferris wheel, but then a committee member stumbled on Architects of Air, a U.K-based company that constructs inflatables filled with luminaria. Visitors walk through the inflatables, called the Katena Luminarium, to experience the lights and colors.

"I've not seen anything like it," East said. "I think it is going to be fun and something people have not seen before."

The model the committee selected is three stories high and will fill the parking area south of the American City Building near the Whole Foods, East said.

Visitors must remove their shoes before entering, East said, and will travel through the Katena Luminarium at their own pace. The average duration is between 15 and 20 minutes, but there are also alcoves where people can sit and view the lights and colors, she said.

"We've been reassured and assured that whether it is daytime or night, the experience shifts, but is not diminished," East said.

The attraction will be free to enter.

"The whole idea is that everyone, whether you love it or don't love it, can get in and out," East said.

The final weeks of the birthday celebration will feature the Fourth of July celebration, a concert series at Merriweather and a celebration finale in September.

"Columbia is looking pretty good at 50," Kellner said. "I hope the next 50 years are as creative and innovative as the first 50."

Schedule of events

The following is a selection of the events planned to celebrate Columbia's 50th birthday. For a full listing, go to columbiamd50.com.

Sunday, March 19: The celebration begins with a proclamation at 11 a.m. at the Mall in Columbia's outdoor court yard between Maggiano's and Seasosn 52. From 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., entertainment and activities will take place inside the mall.

Monday, March 20 through mid-June: Exhibit, featuring historic posters created by Gail Holliday, at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.

Sunday, March 26: Spring Walk and Photo Expo. Ned Tillman, author and geologist, will lead a walk through Columbia to see the 50,000 daffodils planted last year to mark the 50th birthday.

Sunday, April 23: Howard County high schools present Columbia tribute at Merriweather Post Pavilion at 4 p.m.

Tuesday, May 9, and Wednesday, May 10: Founder's Days. Howard Community College will host "The Men Who Created Columbia." A morning session from 9 a.m. to noon will feature Ann Forsyth, of Harvard Graduate School of Design. At noon, past and current Rouse scholars will be recognized and a special program is being planned for 5 p.m. "It is shaping up to be an awesome day," East said.

Wednesday, May 17: Barbara Kellner, Columbia Archives, will talk about mid-century modern architecture in Columbia at 7 p.m. at the Central Branch library.

Sunday, June 11: Howard County Library System and Downtown Partnership will host the first Columbia Book Festival.

•Friday, June 16-Sunday, June 18: Columbia Lakefront Festival and the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Sunday, June 15: Toby's presents "Where Are They Now" at 6 p.m. at Smith Theatre, Howard Community College.

Tuesday, July 4: Howard County Recreation and Parks holds Fourth of July entertainment and fireworks at Downtown Columbia Lakefront.

Friday, July 14: Merriweather Post Pavilion celebrates 50th birthday with special concert series.

Sunday, Aug. 6: Village of Harper's Choice Art Gala, featuring a retrospective of the works of Columbia artists Wes Yamaka and John Levering, 6 to 8 p.m. at Kahler Hall.

Friday, Sept. 1: Rouse Company/Howard Hughes Art Collection exhibit opens at Howard County Arts Council in Ellicott City.

Saturday, Sept. 9: 50th Plein Air Art Kittamaqundi at Columbia lakefront.

Sunday, Sept. 17-Saturday, Sept. 23: 50th Birthday Celebration Finale. Plans are still being worked on for the final week but East said an interfaith service will take place on Sept. 17. "The faith community was a huge part of Jim Rouse's plan," East said. "It was a really important part."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun