In a partnership between ArtReach, BID Leicester and Leicester City Council, new light extravaganza Light Up Leicester drew approximately 206,000 people to the city over a four-day fun-filled festival – 5-8 March.

Thanks to funding from Arts Council England, Leicester’s newest cultural event kicked off with a buzzing launch at LCB Depot. The City Mayor of Leicester, Peter Soulsby delivered a speech alongside BID Leicester’s Simon Jenner, digital artist Sean Clark and Executive Producer, Sam Javid.

In fact, the ArtReach producer then led attendees on a tour of the interactive light works going through the Cultural Quarter with artist Stanza’s Youth Culture, up to Humberstone Gate and The Lanes, before finishing in St Peter’s Square next to Highcross Leicester.

Some of the attendees included ArtReach’s Audience Lab for the event. In the months leading up to the Festival, the Audience Lab was an inclusive, open space for an enthusiastic group of local volunteers to share and discuss their ideas for a Festival of ‘connectedness’ – meaning interactive, playable and ‘connected to the internet’ artworks.

Playing their part to contribute to a city-wide celebration, the group gave their opinions on this exciting cultural event, with topics including promotion and marketing or local perception of the Festival while meeting new people and getting to meet the artists behind the works.

While four of artworks have enjoyed success elsewhere in the UK as well as abroad, to complement these, ArtReach specially commissioned three new artworks. Together, they formed a trail that people could follow, or visit each individually. Though, many enjoyed the first experience thanks to the LoyalFree App’s special #LightUpLeicester trail, which promised the chance of winning exclusive prizes!

Equally, the Festival was a particularly special opportunity for the commissioned artists. In late 2019, ArtReach released a call out welcoming artists of all disciples and experience levels to apply since each selected commission benefitted from support with the aforementioned Leicester-based International Artist, Researcher and Technologist Sean Clark.

After this period of development and showing for the first time, ‘Shadowdance’ was an interactive installation by Huddersfield-based Impossible Arts, which transformed people’s shadows into gigantic colourful silhouettes and featured in many photoshoots over the 4 days. Then, premiering in Jubilee Square, ‘Unexpected Connection’ by Eccentric Events of Northampton brought people together in an interactive LED tunnel, while Leicester-based Mateus Domingos created ‘Traces’ for the hubbub of Leicester Market.

All the way from Quays Culture, in Manchester, was Stanza’s striking ‘Youth Culture’ – a 3-metre high sculpture of a youth that reflects audience interaction, thanks to its in-built cameras, screens and technology. But nearby, families loved ‘Wave-Field’, which features eight illuminated see-saws that are activated when people play on them. Then, as city-walkers finished up their evening shopping, Deepa Mann-Kler’s work caught the eye as she took inspiration from the global phenomenon of shoe-tossing to create ‘Shoefiti’.

Last but not least, Highcross brought Squid Soup’s Wave to wow passers-by in St Peter’s Square. Initially commissioned by Salisbury Cathedral, with variations shown at Burning Man and Canal Convergence festivals, Wave consists of some five hundred individual suspended orbs, which create an unforgettable walk through immersive experience. 500 points of light, 500 voices, interconnected using Internet of Things technology and acting in choreographed harmony, this stunning work was a huge hit!

Though there were other opportunities to get involved for those inspired to innovate with and share digital art. Thanks is due to the brilliant team of ambassadors and volunteers who worked with the public, permitting them to understand and fully benefit from the interactivity of the artworks. Over the four day, this also allowed opportunities form connections with strangers bonding over unusual artistic experiences!

Elsewhere, Dr Sean Clark ran a ‘Connectedness Clinic’, for local artists and residents to learn how to make connected and interactive artworks of their own throughout the Festival. But ahead of the main event, several local schools had a go at creating their own illuminated artworks to be displayed at Bean Gaming Café to inspire others.

Overall, festival goers, young and old, local and visiting, came together for the premiere of this truly special event. Light Up Leicester truly lit up the Midlands city with fun for families and friends.

Feel free to extend the fun from the weekend and have a look at the gallery from the weekend here: Light Up Leicester

*Image of Wave by Squidsoup at Highcross Leicester Chris Patrick Photography