Like in Lyon: 6 recommendations to the cities on how to organize a light festival
This article is prepared within the EU-funded project "PubLiCity: energy efficient modernization of public lighting in the city of Polotsk"
Thanks to the financial support of the European Union, a delegation from Polack (Polotsk), Belarus, had an opportunity to get first-hand experience of the role of illumination during city festivals. On 6-9 December 2017, they visited the world famous Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights, in Lyon (France), together with Lyon Light Festival Forum that gathered almost 200 participants from various countries.

The city of Polotsk is going to hold its own festival of lights in 2018. In Lyon, the delegation from Polotsk had a chance to meet the organizing team of the Fête des Lumières and see dazzling light installations in the city centre. They took note of dozens of ideas on how to organize such events and are willing to share them with other cities.

Festival of Light (Fête des Lumières) in Lyon is ...
an annual city festival that takes place in the beginning of December and lasts for three or four days. The festival has its origins in the 17th century; over the last 15 years it has become one of the world's major festivals of light art.
2 million visitors
Festival of Light in Lyon gathered this year
46 light installations
Were put all over the city during the Festival this year
10 million euros
Is an approximate revenue from the Festival took place this year. It is almost four times more than the costs of its organizing

Learn from the experience of other cities
Festivals of light take place in various cities of the world approximately from September till March. The most famous of them are annual light festivals in Lyon, Berlin and Amsterdam; these festivals are rated among the biggest cultural events and top tourist destinations of these cities.

Of course, the best way to learn from the experience of these successful light festivals would be to go and see them with your own eyes. Some cities combine their festival of lights with experience sharing evens. For example, each year during the Fête des Lumières in Lyon you can also visit the Lyon Light Festival Forum, a big event that focuses on the most recent issues and trends in temporary public lighting. This year, participants of the Lyon Light Festival Forum had an opportunity to meet the organizing team of the Fête des Lumières; for two hours, the Director, the Technical Director and other team members of the Fête des Lumières had been talking about their experience of organizing this huge event – preparing all the logistics, distributing the budget, working with the authors of installations, searching for sponsors, involving volunteers, and doing all kinds of other things. There was also an open Q&A session where the speakers gave advice to the cities on how to organize a festival of lights for the first time. The organizing team of the Fête des Lumières is very friendly and open for cooperation: in case of further questions, they can always be reached by email (but bear in mind that the answer might take some time, because such consultations need to get approval from the department of international affairs of the City of Lyon.
At Lyon Festival of Lights in 2017.
Photo credit: Muriel Chaulet, Laurent Cernio. Source:
Naturally, a trip to the light festival in Lyon, Berlin or Amsterdam is not something everyone can afford, so why not take a closer look at other capitals that also hold light festivals but are easier to reach. Riga, Helsinki, Moscow and Prague conduct festivals of light each year; these events might not be as big as the one in Lyon, but they are no less spectacular.

If visiting another light festival is something you just cannot fit into your plans, be sure to take a good look at the official websites of the larger festivals of lights in Lyon, Berlin, Amsterdam and other big cities. There you can find official videos and photos of all light installations not only from the most recent festival, but from the previous years as well.
Join city networks on urban lighting and conduction of light festivals
One of the most famous international organizations that work in the domain of urban lighting is called LUCI (Lighting Urban Community International). LUCI brings together about 70 cities and more than 40 organizations and companies that see urban lighting as one of the main factors for economic development and energy saving. Among LUCI members you will find city administrations of Lyon, Göteborg (Sweden), Eindhoven (Netherlands), as well as large businesses such as Philips. Each year, LUCI conducts a variety of capacity building and knowledge sharing events, Lyon Light Festival Forum being one of them.

To join LUCI, cities have to pay a membership fee; the amount depends on the size of the city and is subject to discussion. According to Mark Burton-Page, LUCI General Director, the organization is quite interested in tapping into the region of Eastern Europe.
We have been thinking about joining LUCI for quite some time. This organization provides access to a wide expert database, useful contacts and information about the latest trends in urban lighting. When we become LUCI members, we will benefit from consultations by top light designers and cities which have been successfully implementing their light development strategies. We have already begun to work on such a strategy for Polotsk. In 2011, our city was the first Belarusian signatory of the Covenant of Mayors, and in 2016 we were the first city in Belarus to join the CIVITAS Forum Network. So why not become the first Belarusian LUCI member?
Siarhei Leichanka
First vice-mayor of Polotsk
Another organization to have a look at is the International Light festivals Organisation (ILO). ILO is a platform for exchange of experience and ideas between light festivals in Europe and other countries of the world. According to the information on ILO's website, it is the place where the beginner festivals will find inspiration, useful links and even solutions to specific problems.
Light installations at Lyon Festival of Lights in 2017
Photos by Muriel Chaulet and Laurent Cernio. Source:
Keep up with advanced technologies
Light festivals are a celebration of state-of-the art technologies in light design; here you will see the most unbelievable innovations that go beyond what we are used to. This year, the Lyon Light Festival Forum invited top European companies that work in the area of light design and light art to talk about the light technologies of today and tomorrow.
In a nutshell, present-day light technologies are mostly about interactivity.
Today's most popular light installations react to movement, detect the heat of the human body and can be controlled via smartphone. Experts believe that light technologies of the future will become more and more interactive, thus transforming traditional formats. For instance, 3D mapping on walls and facades, which has become almost mainstream, will feature more interaction with the audience, making it possible to change the projected images through smartphone or simply by touching the surface.
Projection at the Festival of Lights in Lyon in 2017

Photo credit: Lucien Lung,
For the record, technologies and approaches to 3D mapping are evolving even as we speak. For example, one of the recent trends is to project images not only on the outer facades, but also on the inner surfaces of the buildings. One of the most impressive works presented at the Lyon Light Festival Forum conference was a 3D show inside a cathedral that had been synchronized with the sounds of the organ and the church bells in Montreal made by Moment Factory.
Projection show inside a cathedral in Montreal
Photo credit: Moment Factory
Another popular trend that is likely to gain moment in the years to come is the usage of machines and even robots as the elements of light objects and installations. This year, the London-based Jason Bruges Studio got everyone's attention by creating three robotic light installations for the British city of Hull; you can watch the video and read more about this project here.

But most importantly, the future will see permanent and temporary urban lighting take into consideration the needs of local residents and particular aspects of public spaces. As the number of cars in the city center will decrease, the streets will feature more objects aimed at pedestrians, from creatively lit playgrounds to one-piece constructions that will combine a lantern, a bench, a flowerbed and a phone charging station. New models and formats of urban lighting will be good looking, easy to use, comfortable, energy efficient, or even working on alternative sources of energy, such as solar power.
Robotic light installations in the British city of Hull

Photo credit: Jason Bruges Studio
New technologies challenge us artistically
New technologies challenge us artistically, as the speakers of the Lyon Light Festival Forum repeated continuously. And this means that, as we move into the future, we will see even more creative, striking and inspiring examples of how to use modern technologies in light art.
But it's not all about technologies
This might sound strange, given everything that we've told you about all those modern technologies. And still, the main idea behind all presentations of the Lyon Light Festival Forum was that technologies should serve the ideas, not the other way round. When you develop the concept for your festival of light, try to find the balance between art and technology.
You will have to go beyond the existing frontiers by uniting light, technologies, IT, AI, physics, robots, video and sound, and creating something new at the intersection of all these things.
But behind all this, there needs to be a story that the audience will understand and feel. To tell this story, you don't necessarily need the most expensive and state-of-the-art technologies. In many cases, you can get the same effect even if you use simpler technical solutions. This might come in handy if your budget for the light festival is not particularly big.
I was impressed by the technical approach and creativity of some of the light installations that we saw at the Fête des Lumières in Lyon.Turns out, there is a big difference between just lighting a monument and doing it creatively – for example, surrounding it with a transparent dome and synchronizing it with a music show. I was also surprised at the simplicity of some installations. For instance, a bendable polypropylene tube and a LED rope light were enough to create an impressive piece of light art along the whole street.
Yahor Knatsko
Head of the Polotsk Electric Networks
Installations at the Festivals of Light in Lyon in 2017
Photo credits: Muriel Chaulet, Fabrice Dimier.
Involve as many partners and participants as possible
Light festivals bring clear profit to the city businesses. During the Fête des Lumières in Lyon, the hotels are booked out several months in advance, even though the prices go up, sometimes 4 to 5 times. According to the organizers of the Fête des Lumières, four days of the festival is when Lyonnaise shops and restaurants get 10% of their annual income.

If you convince private business of the profitability and economic attractiveness of your light festival, you can try to get their financial or organizational support. In Lyon, half of the festival's budget comes from the sponsors; here they are called patrons, to emphasize their role as partners and benefactors. Even when businesses do not have an opportunity to provide financial support, they can contribute in another way, by creating a light design for their display windows, organizing Doors Open Days (or nights!), or hosting a candlelight concert. Cafes and restaurants can work out their own 'festival menu'. Such contribution will not require a lot of money and effort, but will help to create the festive atmosphere (and attract clients), while guests of the festival will get an impression that the whole city has joined in the festivities.
During the Festival of Lights in Lyon in 2017
Photo credit: Marina Borisova
It is also important that you engage all available resources of the city administration. In Lyon, all city services are working at their best to provide safety, comfortable transportation, easy-to-understand navigation and tourist guidance to the guests of the festival. During the Fête des Lumières this year, metro, trams and certain buses circulated more often, and on the major day of the festival, which was December 8, public transport was free from 4 p.m. till late night. Guests of the city enjoyed free night tours, and in most central spots in the city centre there were information stands where you could talk to volunteers and staff of the festival.
It was very interesting for me to look at how the information crew of the Lyon Light Festival works. There were big sphere-shaped information signs and regular direction signs everywhere, as well as information boards with a map and description of installations. In the most crowded places, we would always see the staff of the festival; they were easy to find as they stood on elevated platforms. In the long run, although the streets were extremely crowded, it was not that difficult to find our way.
Alena Astapava
Responsible for communications in the Polotsk city administration
Work with the local artists and architects cot
Large festivals of light usually select concepts for their light installations by running an international open tender among artists, designers and architects from all over the world. The selected teams receive funding from the budget of the festival and hold full responsibility for the creation and montage of their installations; the only thing taken care of by the city administration is power connection.

Obviously, involvement of artists from other countries can be rather expensive, especially given the transportation costs. But what if your festival's budget is far from that of Lyon, Amsterdam and Berlin? In this case, in addition to attracting sponsors and trying to collect money through crowdfunding, the organizing team of the Fête des Lumières recommends working with local artists and architects and cooperating with local universities and colleges that train future architects or designers. In fact, even big light festivals such as the one in Lyon are very fond of working with students: this year, the festival featured several interesting light installations developed by the Lyonnaise students in cooperation with their fellow students from Germany.
Part of installation made by students for
the Festival of Lights in Lyon in 2017

Remember that the light festival is a big event, and you should start to prepare for it at least one year in advance
Generation of ideas and creation of light objects requires quite a lot of time, so make sure to give your artistic teams enough time to come up with a high-quality concept and bring it to life. For example, the call for participation in the next Amsterdam Light Festival, which will take place in November-December 2018, opened on 3 November 2017 and will close on 17 January 2018.
I like the idea that light festival gives an opportunity to have a look at public urban spaces from a different angle. If we look at the city from above, we'll see that only roadway is lit - highways and roads. But making city comfortable for people means that the space between the roads also should be considered. It seems to me that light festival will help to set a direction for shift to the new level of quality of urban environment.
Tatsiana Ciareshchanka
Assitant at Architectual Department of Faculty of Civil Engineering of Polotsk State University

Bonus recommendation: The story behind each light festival is light itself
This keynote idea was emphasized several times by the organizing team of the Fête des Lumières, and it runs through the whole concept of the festival.
I liked it that the Lyon Light Festivlal does not have any particular topic, and subordinate plots do not distract the viewers from the main protagonist, which is light itself. We will try to use this approach when we organize our own festival of lights in Polotsk next year. Things we saw in Lyon triggered our imagination and resulted in a number of very interesting ideas. We have already started to think about light installations that might appear in our streets next year.
Tatsiana Bahdanovich
Сhief architect of Polotsk
The Light Festival in Polotsk will take place in autumn 2018 as a new form of the Energy Days.
Festival of Light will take place in Polotsk in 2018
After our trip to Lyon we have much better understanding of how to conduct the festival of light. Now we are not afraid of organizing an event like this in our city, and preparations are already on the way.
Piotr Piatkevich
Polotsk vice-mayor for social affairs
The Light Festival in Polotsk will be organized as part of the project 'PubLiCity: energy efficient modernization of public lighting in the city of Polotsk'. The project is funded by the European Union under the EU4Energy Initiative.

Text: Marina Borisova, Local Foundation for Promotion of International Dialogue and Cooperation "Interakcia",

Cover photo: Lucas Gallone

Инициатива EU4Energy направлена на совершенствование энергоснабжения, его безопасности и доступности, а также популяризацию идей энергоэффективности и использования возобновляемых источников энергии в странах Восточного партнёрства. Это достигается путем финансирования проектов и программ, способствующих реформированию энергетического рынка для сокращения зависимости от источников энергии и её потребления на национальном уровне. В долгосрочной перспективе энергоснабжение становится более доступным, надежным и прозрачным. Таким образом, сокращается дефицит энергоресурсов и уменьшается стоимость энергии для граждан и частного сектора. Подробнее об инициативе:

Данная публикация создана при поддержке Европейского Союза в рамках инициативы EU4Energy. Содержание публикации является предметом исключительной ответственности Местного фонда содействия развитию международного диалога и сотрудничества «Интеракция» и никаким образом не может отражать официальной позиции Европейского Союза.
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