Light as Art
Festival of Lights Illuminates Olde Town

There's an exhibit coming to Olde Town but it doesn't involve paintings, sculpture, photography or any of the other traditional arts. This exhibit is composed of light.

For the second year in a row, the Festival of Lights USA will drench Olde Town buildings in colors and patterns as lighting designers hone their skills and highlight the architecture of several historic structures.

The public is invited to enjoy the festivities on Friday, March 7, from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, March 8, from 2 to 10 p.m. The Festival of Lights USA, sponsored by Acuity Brands Lighting (parent company of Lithonia Lighting in Conyers) and Sylvania, involves 12 teams of lighting designers each creating a light display on the facades of Olde Town buildings. Some of the illuminated locations will include Conyers Presbyterian Church, Rockdale County Board of Commissioners building, Rockdale County Courthouse, Evans Pharmacy, the Dinky steam locomotive, Vaughn Botanical Gardens and Stewart's Alley.

"The intent of the program is to give designers a very ordinary structure and basic lighting equipment and have them transform it," said Bill Peel, senior manager of Acuity Brands Lighting's Jim H. McClung Lighting Center. "To that end, we encourage creativity over technology."

Accompanying the light displays will be a children's corner located behind the Rockdale Citizen offices at 969 S. Main St. featuring a ferris wheel for 10 and under, a turbo swing for all ages, several inflatable walks and slides and face painting. Also on hand will be food and arts and crafts vendors.

Visitors can either stroll through Olde Town and view the lights or ride in a small motorized train through the streets to see the venues. They can also stop and listen to a five-piece band perform a mix of jazz, oldies and pop favorites at the Depot each night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

While the Festival of Lights provides an event for the community to attend, it's also a workshop for 60 lighting designers who travel from across the country to convene in Conyers. The designers tour Olde Town on Thursday and begin work on their projects on Friday afternoon.

Many of the lighting designers began their careers in theater and have progressed to lighting high-profile building projects. Peel said that most of the designers view light as an art form, not a science.

"These lighting designers select a wide variety of products for their use, but it's rare that they get to take it in their hands and use it," said Peel. "They're given a brief amount of time to do the design, production, selection and installation all themselves."

The Festival of Lights in Conyers is based on a tradition in Lyon, France, that began in the 19th century. In December 1862, the people of Lyon placed candles in their windows in honor of the Virgin Mary whom they believed prevented the plague from entering their city, a celebration known as the Feast of Lights. That tradition continued over a century, and several years ago transformed into a three-day event in which more than 200 buildings in Lyon are floodlit to specific designs.

Locally, the Conyers Festival of Lights USA last year drew roughly 2,000 people, pleasing city officials.

"We're always thrilled when people want partner with us and bring events that will benefit Olde Town," said Jennifer Harper, director of public relations and tourism for Conyers.

Contact Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Festival of Lights USA

When: March 7 from 6 to 10 p.m. and March 8 from 2 to 10 p.m.

Where: Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Free. For more information, visit www.conyersga.com.