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New Winter Festival Lights Up The Commons

Visitors and locals can find the prisms scattered throughout each end of the Commons. (Kristen Mirand/Ithaca Week)

“They’re very reflective. They’re eye-grabbing. You can’t help but spin them!”

When Denman Dewey drove down to Ithaca, he was not expecting to see something so unusual.

“When I came into the Commons, I noticed them,” he said. Dewey traveled into the city for the day to shop for Christmas gifts. 

Colorful by day and illuminating the Commons by night, the installation of 25 prisms kicked off the first ever Winter Light Festival, held from Thursday, Dec. 5 to Saturday, Dec. 15.

Scott Rougeau is the Special Events Director for Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which is the organization behind this festival. 

“It’s a 7-foot tower of color that you can come down [to see] and just spin,” he said excitedly. 

At night, the light from inside the prisms illuminates the Commons. (Kristen Mirand/Ithaca Week)

The installments are called Prismaticas, and were created by Raw Design – a company based in Montreal. Rougeau and his team members first heard of the prisms a couple of years back, and finally decided this was the year to install them. 

For 12 years, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance hosted the Ithaca Ice Festival, which has now been replaced by the Winter Light Festival because of how uncertain the weather can be.

The ice sculptures would only last between three to four days if the weather cooperated, Rougeau added.

Another deciding factor: vandalism. “People see ice and they want to touch it or hug it or get a close photo and it’ll fall right over,” he said. 

Mayor Svante Myrick posted about the installation both on Instagram and Twitter, turning the introduction of the light festival into a discussion about climate change and calling for Rep. Tom Reed’s attention.

So far, visitors and locals are responding well to the new festival, according to Rougeau.   The organizers hope to attract a wider audience,  given that  the duration of this festival is longer than the previous Winter Ice Festival.

“We’re getting a long stretch so people don’t have to come down [only] during Chowder Cook-off,” he said. “They can come out any time if they’re going to get lunch or do their shopping on their own time [or] come down at their leisure.” 

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance planned events around the festival by hosting an art walking tour, the 10th Annual Chowder Cook-off, Santa’s Rappelling into Town and a silent disco.

Two Ithaca artists, Doug Shire and Laurence Clarkberg, created Sparky the Unicorn as part of the Winter Light Festival. (Kristen Mirand/Ithaca Week)

The Ithaca Sabers will also host an LED lightsaber training, and to conclude the festival, Let’s Glow Ithaca will feature a community light parade led by Sparky the Unicorn. 

With much excitement coming from the community about the new installations, the process to put together the prisms happened in just one day and required a lot of planning, especially with the recent snow storm. 

“Snow was everywhere that we needed it not to be, so first thing Monday morning the [city maintenance] crew was out here moving all the snow out of the way,” Rougeau said. 

There was only a team of seven that helped install the pieces. “First we had to find out where we were going to put them and space them out, and it was an all-day process,” he added. 

Downtown Ithaca Alliance team members cleared the snow after the storm struck the Commons early December. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Ithaca Alliance)

Crews were moving the parts of the prism through the snow by first laying down the base, the framing and then the lights. 

With only a few days left of the installation, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance is proud of its first ever light festival and hope to carry out this tradition.

“We’re going to talk about it internally, and maybe not necessarily this installation [for next year] maybe something else, but I think we might stick with the light theme for our winter festivals.” 

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