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See Tacoma in a new light: Winter art festival brightens up the city with mixed-media exhibits

If you have walked, biked or driven through downtown Tacoma lately, you might have noticed that storefronts, windows and sides of buildings are a little brighter.

That’s thanks to the annual Tacoma Light Trail, a winter art festival that helps people explore the City of Destiny through the eyes — and ears — of local artists.

The free event features mixed-media exhibits scattered across the city. Fifty storefronts and spaces downtown are illuminated with light installations, projections, even glow-in-the-dark sand painting.

Many of the exhibits are accompanied by sound that spectators can play on demand with their smartphones, including spoken word poetry like “Love” by Saiyare Refaei. It’s paired with a neon “253Heart” hanging above businesses in Opera Alley, created by Tacoma installation artist John James.

Other exhibits include a projection and land acknowledgement from the Puyallup Tribe, life-sized black-light crystals with a soundscape created by Seabury Middle School students, and a Rainbow skybridge inspired by Norse legend. If funky music and psychedelic slugs are your jam, Alma has it.

Another exhibit along the trail, "Neural Nebulous" by Portland artist Alexis Neumann, is a constellation of light and copper wire relating the brain to the unknowns of space on display. Tacoma composer Greg Youtz's "Ephemera" accompanies the visual installation and together they transport you to the outer reaches, even as you stand outside a neighborhood bakery.

The Tacoma Light Trail was dreamed up in 2020 by Rosemary Ponnekanti, who wanted to bring light to the community during a dark time. It’s since grown, with live performances like LED circus and illuminated indoor concerts.

The festival kicks off every year on New Year’s Eve, and runs this year through Jan. 19.

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.