Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let There Be Lights

Saturday night was the kick-off for the Lights on Tampa event. It’s a pretty cool experience, but 2009’s rendition left me un-enlightened while the 2006 show brightened my imagination.

In 2006, Guy and I ventured to the normally dead downtown of Tampa. In its defense, only parts of Tampa are usually empty on a Saturday night. There is Channelside and Ybor, both club and restaurant havens, but the actual downtown seems to shut down at 5 p.m. on Friday. The Performing Arts Center and Tampa Theatre are just about the only places to hang, but there is always the Hub for those die-hards who like a real drink without the celebrity-watching benefit.

On that chilly night in January, we felt almost like we were in a city again (we had just come back from NYC and were missing the energy.) There were, I think, six or seven displays of lights from films projected on windows to lights dancing to music. We had a blast wandering around the streets and warming ourselves in the smoky essence of the crowded bar.

Fast-forward to 2009. The displays had been moved to Channelside near the Marriot and Embassy Suites to be positioned for the tourists visiting for the Super Bowl. Disco balls strung on light posts, glittered to the house music sounds coming from the Convention Center while an interesting, though slightly depressing, animated film about people stranded in the water, was displayed on the walls of the Forum, right next to video ads for upcoming shows featuring Celine Dion and Britney. There was the touch of kitsche that transcended into just bad since it seems art was not at the forefront of this event, but more as a tourist attraction of fake culture.

Ascending above the madness of this disillusioned display was the giant mood ring created by Will Pappenheimer rising up along the river behind the forum. Simply pleasurable, the metal structure changed hues from the inside out to catch the oohs and ahhs of the crowd. It was pretty cool too. You can even change the color of the ring to fit your mood by visiting

Walking through the band of the ring, your runway out to the river was lined with football art that actually was pretty cool as well. Pappenheimer’s interpretation of the names of the NFL Playoff Teams is crafted from recycled metal bits and surprised me in their detail and structure. This was where the cliché of the experience is what made it art to me.
My other favorite was the light display by Casa Magica ( on the concrete walls of the Fort Brooke Garage. Accompanied by a live swinging band, images were a tapestry of Asian inspirations to Victorian postcard designs.

Yet, my favorite sight of the night, wasn’t a display of light at all. In fact, it was quite heavy. The Barnum and Bailey Circus is in town and showing at the Forum. When we were crossing the street to trudge back to the truck we were stopped at an elephant crossing. These large mammals looked so innocent and playful as they strode along trunk to tail in their sequined garb. It was my favorite experience of the whole night.

All in all, it was a nice night out, but I wish it would have been more local-centric instead of just fodder for tourists. But that is how a lot of things are here. It’s what you get for living in almost paradise.

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