Looking back at Light Night

Date published: 8 Feb 2021

Posted by: Alison Denholm & Jessica Kemp

Illuminated bird puppet

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Light Night in Nottingham started in 2008, and City Arts has been involved since the beginning. We have been part of lighting up the night, and opening up the city, on cold February evenings. The festival helps make the city a safe and vibrant space for families after dark. It’s been great to create opportunities for people to get involved.

For Light Night 2020, we produced some of our biggest parades yet, with beautiful accompanying exhibitions at our building in Hockley. It was a joyous weekend, made more poignant by a global pandemic and national lockdown just around the corner.

The festival is not happening this year, for obvious reasons, so we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the projects we have done. Below we look at some of the communities we have worked with, and the artists who have shared their creativity with us, over the last 13 years.

Thanks to Jessica Kemp at Curious Studios for helping us put this blog together.

Community Parades

Our Light Night parades are all about community. They’ve brought together people of all ages and backgrounds. They’ve given people the chance to share in the thrill of bringing light, music and dance to our streets. We’ve worked with schools, community groups and care homes, building strong ties in Sneinton & St Ann’s.

Goddess structure in parade, Nottingham City Centre

For the ‘Unity Parade’, a collaboration with The Renewal Trust, young people from Greenway Community Centre and St Ann’s Scouts’ groups made lanterns, large and small. From their respective areas, they walked with their families to meet at Sneinton Market for a joint celebration.

Dancers at Nottingham Light Night
Young people holding lanterns at Nottingham Light Night

As part of City Arts Imagine programme, older people from Nottingham Hospice & Millbeck House Care Home created lanterns for the parade. Following the event, we thanked them by bringing lantern and carnival celebrations back into their centres.

The artist community has also grown through these events. Professional artists and creative students have learnt from each other. They’ve had the space to explore new ideas and give back to the wider community.

Lanterns of all shapes and sizes

To light up the city night we have produced lanterns in many forms. At the first festival we took inspiration from European light festivals, creating large painted pyramids. They were designed and painted by groups from across the city, before being installed around the city centre.

Giant static pyramid lantern
Lantern making workshop

For our parades, the lanterns have to be mobile. We use traditional willow and tissue structures. They are versatile, with the potential to create any shape you desire! The construction principles are simple. You build a frame from flexible willow and tape, then cover it in glue soaked tissue paper. Once dry, place a battery-powered light inside. From making simple shapes, to building complex jointed puppets, it’s something anyone can have a go at.

Child holding bird lantern

The ultimate lantern was our huge geodesic dome. Over the years, it hosted art installations, projections and happenings, always glowing enticingly from a distance.

Illuminated Puppets and Instruments

Over the years, we have worked with many artists to create artwork for the streets of Nottingham. Between 2008 and 2012, City Arts was part of a four-year national project, Imagination Our Nation, led by London-based company Kinetika.

Illuminated alien puppet

For Imagination Our Nation, we built beautiful illuminated walkabout puppets. Hundreds of children got involved when we sent art kits to local schools. They created giant oak leaves and wrote their wishes for the future on them. There were dance projects at secondary schools and costume workshops.

Child playing illuminated chime instruments

We worked with local artist Michael Davis to create a set of giant chimes. They are designed for accessibility – anyone can play them! They’ve been the arrival point for many a parade, adding an atmospheric soundtrack to the night.

Music, Costume and a New Home

Our Light Night events have involved lots of collaborations with carnival company Can Samba. Ceri and Sarena from Can Samba were Artists-in-Residence at City Arts from 2015 to 2018. Their Samba Band has been the soundtrack for many of our Light Night processions. We’ve been joined by their dancers, stilt-walkers and the amazing ‘Howellers’.

Carnival performer dressed as bee at night

With City Arts, they designed mini floats for shopmobility scooters. These mean older people and people with restricted mobility can join the parades. Everyone wraps up well to stay snug beneath their colourful costumes and flamboyant float decorations!

Mobility scooter carnival float
Light-based art installation at City Arts (Nottingham)

In 2014, City Arts moved to Hockley. We were able to invite the public into our building at Light Night. We’ve worked with participants to create art installations and exhibitions for the event. We’ve also opened our doors to provide respite from the cold February night.

Illuminated Carnival

Brazilian carnival dancers at Nottingham Light Night

As more Light Night events centred around Sneinton Market, City Arts and Curious Studios were joined by EMCCAN. Their amazing costumes brought a Caribbean flavour to the parades on Sneinton Square.

Caribbean carnival costume at Nottingham Light Night
Carnival parade enters Nottingham's Old Market Square

It became clear we were outgrowing that space so in February 2020 we changed our route. We started in Hockley, parading up to Market Square, for Light Night’s biggest illuminated carnival to date. We were joined by Can Samba and carnival troupes supported by EMCCAN. They included Zodiac All Stars, Inspire Urself, the Brazilian Carnival Company and Nottingham School of Samba. Each troupe added lights to their costumes – bringing an extra sparkle!

The 2020 Lantern Parade

2020 had the biggest – most beautiful – lantern parade yet! Loads of people created lanterns with an environmental theme. We had fantastic array of woodland animals and sea creatures, in all shapes, sizes and colours!

Willow lantern of a stag

Young people from St Ann’s Scouts and the Greenway Centre did us proud with their sea creatures. William Booth Primary School made colourful flowers and amazing insects. Meander Theatre added animals from our inland waterways. They’ve since gone on to star in a theatre piece. Nottingham City WI worked with Curious Studios to create larger than life sea creatures. Public workshops at City Arts were some of the most creative we’ve ever experienced!

Lantern parade at Nottingham Light Night
Willow lantern of a sea dragon

Workshop leaders Jessica Kemp & Bryony McCombie-Smith joined with their own creations. They made lantern puppets, a sea-dragon and oak forest Stag. They had assistance from members of the Thursday Art Group, based at City Arts.

We have seen flying fish, dragons, stripy bees, peacocks, giant toadstools and a shrimp! We can’t wait to see what illuminated magic will be created next.

Thank you to the artists and partners we’ve worked with over the years. They include Sharon Scaniglia, Chelsey Everatt, Jessica Kemp, Can Samba, Graham Elstone, Rosie Hobbs, Michael Davis, Sarah Turner, Bryony McCombie-Smith, Nottingham’s carnival artists and many more.