Unfortunately, I was unable to see Ghost in the shell this weekend, but I will get to that this week, since I’ll be on Easter Break. Instead, I made the short trip into the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to see the second annual Light City festival. Founded to bring the community together after the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 that left the community torn and the Inner Harbor damaged, Light City is a multi-faceted art and entertainment festival focused on art installations, live music, and interactive light exhibits to reimagine Baltimore after dark.
Last year the festival was a huge success and helped to repair the city’s wounds after a divisive trial of the officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. The event brought in approximately 400,000 people and helped local businesses to recover after many were damaged during the riots. In addition to the beautiful light and art exhibits that lined the boardwalk along the Patapsco River, the event also had guest speakers and summits to discuss issues and solutions within the community.
Last year’s rendition was an incredible and powerful event, creating a new and improved image of Baltimore and generating nearly $20 million in direct spending into the local economy and an additional $13.9 million in indirect spending. The city showed strength and resolve to pick up the pieces following one of the most divisive events it had ever seen.
This year’s event continued the beautiful lights, art, and music, but felt a bit different in tone. As I wandered from Light Street to President Street, I was delighted to see the return of last year’s carousel, ferris wheel, and main music stage. 2016’s version of the festival hosted 50 different exhibits, but due to some financial issues last year the 2017 iteration contained another eight locations and spanned nine days instead of seven.
The increase in bar tents was something of an unwelcome surprise, in my opinion, since this event is supposed to be for people of all ages. I didn’t witness any incidents, but having eight separate bars could spell danger for next year’s festival.
After doing some research into the behind the scenes workings of the festival, I found some surprising tidbits about ongoing legal and economic battles. According to the Baltimore Sun, the two extra days likely pushed the attendance up 17% from last year, up to about 470,000 people. Even though it was seen as a social success, the 2016 festival reportedly came up $400,000 short of its goal and held fundraisers to cover the loses.
There are also dueling lawsuits ongoing between the festival’s creators, Brooke Hall and Justin Allen, and The Office of Promotion and the Arts over the brand name and logo. It’s a shame that an event created to help the community bond has become the subject of a legal battle and I think it showed a bit in the presentation these past nine days.
I hope that the lawsuit is resolved quickly and amicably because the festival helps showcase the beautiful side of Baltimore. With some luck, next year’s iteration can be just as beautiful, more successful, and less controversial than the past two years.