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Tacoma Light Trail brings people together to brighten up the new year

Tacoma Light Trail
Courtesy of Tacoma Light Trail
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“Mini-Tahoma” by RYAN Feddersen, a public artwork at the Commerce Street bus stop, is part of the Tacoma Light Trail.

Rosemary Ponnekanti says she dreamed up the Tacoma Light Trail as a way to bring light into the community when they needed it the most.

That’s just as true this year as it was in 2020, as the pandemic continues to breed isolation and uncertainty.

“That’s still the goal, to bring light to dark times and to bring the community together through things like hope and joy,” Ponnekanti said.

The Tacoma Light Trail kicks off on New Year’s Eve. It’s a free two-week festival of light art in downtown Tacoma that encourages people to bundle up and get out of their cars.

Displays visible from city streets inside buildings at 50 locations and businesses will showcase different cultures and walks of life. And they will be accompanied by music and poetry from local artists, played on demand using a mobile app.

Ponnekanti says those sounds aim to enhance the meaning of the light art.

“Maybe it’s hope or joy or truth or understanding,” she said.

The festival also includes performances on Fridays and Saturdays, beginning Jan. 7 due to weather delays, and a light parade.

The light displays along the trail range from a huge projection that lights up an entire alley wall with a waterfall to a tiny window with a string of mirrors and regalia, casting a pattern of shadows. Performances include a reading from Tacoma’s poet laureate and a circus act using a 30-foot crane on the back of a flatbed truck.

And there are a host of interactive stops along the Light Trail. Among them, shadow play inside a tent at Tollefson Plaza. It’s created by Seattle-based Indigenous artist Raven Juarez. An old-school projector will shine a giant circle of light onto a wall, resembling the moon, where participants can create shadows with different shapes and build their own stories to go along with them.

“Kind of like campfire shadow stories,” Ponnekanti said.

All of it is a collaborative community effort, she added. “It’s like a giant party that everybody gets together on,” she said.

It’s a party that begins when the holidays end, something that sets this festival apart from other events this time of year. And the lights aren’t just holiday lights with Santa or other traditional themes.

“The other big difference is this is light art,” Ponnekanti said. “Art is so much bigger and broader than that. It’s unexpected, it’s unique. Mostly handmade.”

New events are being added all the time. You can learn more about the Tacoma Light Trail here.

Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.