Winter Light 2011: Illuminations featuring Circus Orange

It was cold outside tonight, but Churchill Square was still full of people for Winter Light’s Illuminations. This year the event featured Yukigassen, a Japanese snow battle sport, roving performers, the Illuminations Choir, and the Edmonton premiere of Circus Orange, a Toronto-based pyrotechnic circus troupe. They performed TRICYCLE, “a dramatic fusion of live music, clown, circus, dance, aerial performance, mechanics, pyrotechnics and fire arts.” It was amazing.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Perfect night for a stroll in Churchill Square!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Warming up by the fire.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
I love the way City Hall looks at night, all lit up.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The tricycle in front of the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
She got everyone’s attention then led the crowd to the tricycle.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The large crowd followed the tricycle throughout the square. It was great!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The fire looked awfully close to the trees! You can see a video of it here.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
A few kids were scared of these guys!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Circus Orange takes flight!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Don’t you love seeing the square full of people?

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
They took the front wheel of the tricycle off and put the acrobat inside!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Then it lit up!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
And there were fireworks!

You can see the rest of my photos here.

Tonight’s event did a lot of things right, in my opinion. They finally spent some of the large Winter Light budget – I can’t imagine that Circus Orange was cheap! It was a fantastic show that looked expensive, with lots of lights, fire, props, and a crane. It was worth it. Another thing I loved was that they used the entire square. The tricycle started at the Art Gallery and the large crowd followed it to Three Bananas and back through the square toward City Hall, with different stops along the way. The storytelling aspect was great too, with the scary stilt guys and the clown who never spoke in English. Lots of fun for everyone!

The temperature doesn’t matter. You know what people do when it’s cold? They dance to keep warm. It adds to the experience! And tonight, the people who stayed until the end were rewarded, with a big finale that even featured fireworks. For a few minutes, I forgot that I was cold!

Kudos to Winter Light for a great event. Let’s have more of this please!

Ice on Whyte 2010

Yesterday was the final day of Ice on Whyte 2010, Edmonton’s ice carving festival (now part of Winter Light). Sharon and I had been planning to stop by ever since the festival started ten days ago, but for whatever reason we never made it out. We made up for it yesterday though, visiting twice – once during the day and once at night!

Here are some day & night shots of Ice on Whyte 2010:

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

Ice on Whyte 2010Ice on Whyte 2010

You can read Sharon’s post hereread about the ice carving competition winners here, and you can see the rest of my photos here. Check out the Winter Light site for more upcoming events!

Recap: Mispon Winter Light Gala 2010

Winter Light 2010 kicked off this evening with the Mispon Gala, “a whimsical event that launches Edmonton’s winter festival season.” Winter Light started last year and is meant to showcase Edmonton as a beautiful and interesting winter city. The gala took place at City Hall and included light installations, music and dance performances, and free food! The word “mispon” means “it’s snowing” in Cree, and while there were no snowflakes falling tonight, there was an odd sort of ice fog hanging over downtown. At –19 C (and wind chill of about –26 C) the temperature tonight was actually warmer than it was for the start of Winter Light last year.

Winter Light 2010Winter Light 2010

Unfortunately, the temperature was about the only thing that went up this year! The entire event seemed smaller than in 2009. I arrived at City Hall just before 5pm and found Churchill Square and the skating ring and steps out front completely deserted, save for the three Winter Light people manning the fire stations and a couple others. There was a skate performance right at 4:30pm that I missed, sadly, but I still expected to find some people outside – it is a winter festival after all! I suppose they had trouble with attendance last year too though, so maybe it was wise to focus just on City Hall this year.

Indoor activities included music by Johnny Quazar and the Swingbots, and dance performances by Kristine Nutting’s Warm Up Burlesque. The music was quite good, the dance wasn’t for me 🙂 They did have a neat balloon drop at the end of it though! Food was once again provided by NAIT and included bannock with saskatoon marmalade, baked beans with sourdough crostini, and glazed meatballs. There was also hot chocolate and iced tea. Very tasty! Unfortunately there weren’t very many people in attendance to enjoy it all.

Winter Light 2010Winter Light 2010

John Mahon, Councillor Tony Caterina, Pamela Anthony, Christy Morin, Shirley Low, and Ritchie Velthuis were all on hand tonight to bring greetings and a heads up on the upcoming Winter Light events. The next one is Deep Freeze (on ShareEdmonton), which takes place Saturday and Sunday on Alberta Avenue.

Pamela, who is the director of Winter Light, also thanked the sponsors. Apparently the $1.5 million spent this year and last wasn’t enough – Citytv, Pattison, and Canadian Tire are among the event’s sponsors. Winter Light might stretch over 10 weeks, but it’s really just 11 events, the biggest 3 of which would happen with or without Winter Light. Given that so much was established last year (like the website, tents, giveaways, etc) I find myself questioning again whether the money is being spent wisely or not.

Winter Light 2010

As with last year’s opening ceremonies, tonight was just marketing for the rest of Winter Light. There were some positive things, such as the very cool snowshoe lanterns by Dylan Toymaker, but I came away mostly unimpressed. I hope that the rest of Winter Light 2010 will blow me away! You can see my photos from this evening at Flickr, and some video at YouTube.

UPDATE: Here are Sharon’s thoughts on the event.

Winter Light 2009 by the numbers

At tomorrow’s City Council meeting, John Mahon, Executive Director of the Edmonton Arts Council, will share the Final Report on Winter Light Festival 2009. This year’s festival is being described as successful, so the Community Services Committee will recommend:

  1. That one time funding of $450,000 from 2009 Council Contingency, to fund the Winter Light Festival 2010, be approved.
  2. That Administration, in consultation with Edmonton Arts Council, prepare a base funding budget submission of $750,000 for continuation of a winter festival.

Let’s take a look at some numbers from the final report (in Word format):

  • Beginning on January 8 and ending on March 21, 2009, Winter Light produced 9 events, supported 3 existing winter festival events, 1 City winter event, and produced 15 community workshops.
  • Roughly 12,000 people attended the 9 events produced by Winter Light.
  • Over 62,000 people attended all Winter Light related events.
  • The estimated impact on the local economy was $1.7 million.
  • A total of 55 local producers, marketers, artists and recreation workers were directly employed by Winter Light.
  • To continue with the model used this year, it will cost the city $750,000 in 2010 and $675,000 in 2011.
  • Private sector fundraising will attempt to raise at least 10% of the total budget to be used in 2011.
  • An audience survey showed 50% of respondents were between the ages of 30 and 45, roughly 15% were between 18 and 30, and 32% were aged 45 to 60.
  • Over 94% of respondents said “yes” to the question “Do you think Winter Light was a good investment for the city?”
  • The website received 3 million visits in 3 months.
  • There were more than 800 print, radio, television, and website articles mentioning Winter Light.
  • Over 1500 people subscribed to the Winter Light mailing list.

And some numbers related to expenses:

  • Deep Freeze Festival received $27,000 from Winter Light.
  • Ice on Whyte received $15,000 from Winter Light.
  • Silver Skate received $37,000 from Winter Light.
  • Total revenue for Winter Light 2009 was $808,500 (all but $28,500 of which came from the City).
  • Total expenses were $807,672.
  • A total of $119,031 was spent on a marketing campaign which included outdoor advertising (billboards and buses), print advertising, radio advertising, and electronic advertising.

The report also includes a goals & aspirations assessment. Here’s a wordle of the report (with Edmonton, Winter, and Light removed):

Back in March I wondered if Winter Light 2009 was a success. I concluded that while the concept is sound, there’s lots of room for improvement when it comes to the execution. Final attendance numbers were much lower than originally estimated, which I think supports that argument.

The challenge for Winter Light 2010 (if approved) will be to increase attendance and impact without increasing expense. Hopefully a strong foundation was established this year for accomplishing that.

Was Edmonton’s Winter Light 2009 a success?

Edmonton’s first Winter Light festival wrapped up on Saturday evening in Churchill Square with an event called Illuminations, described as a “final celebration of winter spirit”. I was there to take in the sights and sounds, just as I was on January 8th when Winter Light began its ten week celebration of winter. I found Illuminations enjoyable enough. I bought a Winter Light toque and filled my mug with hot chocolate (though it was more like warm chocolate and they were providing disposable cups, a step backward from the opening ceremonies). We wandered around looking at the displays, soaking up a bit of heat at each of the fire pits. We took some photos.

Winter Light: IlluminationsSharon & Mack

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

I think that sentiment might apply to Winter Light 2009 as a whole. It wasn’t an outright failure, but I’m not sure it was the major success that organizer Pamela Anthony and her team were hoping for. She described the event to The Journal as “an extremely successful research project.” Successful enough for another year?

That remains to be seen. The city spent $750,000 on the festival this year. Total attendance is estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000 people, plus another 150,000 who attended the shared events such as Ice on Whyte (events which would have happened anyway). In comparison, the annual Heritage Festival costs about $500,000 to run and attracts well over 300,000 people. In 2006, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival had expenses of $1,552,797 (pdf – excluding artist ticket revenue) and total site attendance of more than 500,000 people.

Perhaps those comparisons aren’t fair. A warm, sunny day in August is a much easier sell than snow and temperatures well below freezing in February or March. So was Winter Light successful as a winter festival? The jury’s still out on that one too. Here’s what Edmonton Sun columnist Graham Hicks said on Friday:

Google "Harbin Winter Festival Pictures" to see what’s possible. This shouldn’t be so difficult. We have friends. Edmonton is twinned with Harbin and Alberta with Japan’s Hokkaido province, where Sapporo is located.

He felt the inaugural festival failed to “capture the public imagination” and was unable to move beyond the weather. I certainly didn’t hear many people talking about Winter Light in a “must attend” sort of way. And I still think that Illuminate Yaletown made better use of light than Illuminations. Bottom line: there’s definitely room for improvement.

City Council will review a report from the Winter Light organizers later this spring. Final attendance figures will no doubt be important in determining whether or not Winter Light happens again next year, but Mayor Mandel seems keen to support it anyway: “We can’t forget the idea that our job is to make sure that citizens have opportunity…this is a way for people in the wintertime to get out and enjoy our city.”

I still think the concept is a great one, and I agree that there’s lots of potential for winter tourism. My guess is that Winter Light will have to be much improved in 2010 to become a permanent fixture on Edmonton’s festival calendar, however.

What did you think of Winter Light 2009?

Where’s the Edmonton version of Illuminate Yaletown?

While in Vancouver last weekend, Megan and I went to check out an event called Illuminate Yaletown. Sponsored by the Yaletown Business Improvement Association, the event featured light-as-art installations spread throughout the heritage district. From the website:

Featuring light installations designed and developed by artists and architects, pyrotechnics, fire dancing, cutting edge music, interactive activities and a display of illuminated ice sculptures, Illuminate Yaletown shows off Vancouver’s hippest community in a whole new light!

We were impressed by what we saw! We started with the fire dancing and illuminated ice sculptures, and then made our way to the BMW Mini dealership that had been filled with lights. We saw another display where a video camera on the ground was projected up onto the side of a building. Down a little further were some illuminated windows with silhouettes moving about inside. There were lots of people walking around, taking in the sights!

Illuminate Yaletown

Illuminate Yaletown was developed to “brighten up a gloomy winter evening” and is the only outdoor event taking place in Vancouver at this time of year. Sound familiar? I immediately thought of Winter Light. This event sounds exactly like the kind of thing you’d expect to be a part of Edmonton’s new winter festival. But it’s not.

The closest thing is Illuminations, taking place on March 21st in Churchill Square. It too will have fire and projected light. The big difference is that it takes place only in Churchill Square. What I really liked about Illuminate Yaletown is that it got people walking around, so they could check out the buildings, shops, and restaurants in the area. It was a great combination of interesting art and community exploration and discovery.

I’m hopeful that next year’s Winter Light festival will include something similar.

You can see the rest of my photos from Illuminate Yaletown here.

Edmonton Winter Light 2009

winter light 2009 Today marks the start of Winter Light 2009, a new festival designed to “usher in the winter season” and “enjoy Edmonton’s winter spirit.” The opening ceremonies were held tonight in Churchill Square and City Hall. It couldn’t have happened on a day more representative of winter than today – temperatures were around –22 C (and –32 C with the wind chill) and we received a fresh dump of snow during the day!

Sharon and I made our way to Churchill Square at about 7:45pm and found it mostly empty except for the volunteers. Despite having a number of warming tents and fire/heat displays, most people were inside City Hall enjoying the free food (provided by NAIT) and the entertainment of Le Fuzz and others.

Winter Light 2009Winter Light 2009 - Inside City Hall

We wandered around the square for a bit and eventually found the information tent where they were offering free hot chocolate to anyone who brought their own cup. Great way to be a little more environmentally responsible! The hot chocolate tasted great and allowed us to stay outside a little more before heading indoors.

Sharon was excited to see what culinary delights NAIT was offering so we headed straight for the tables of food. Unfortunately the good feeling we had by bringing our own mug for hot chocolate disappeared when we found the disposable plates and spoons being used for the food! Ah well – everything was very tasty!

We spent some time enjoying the performances, and managed to catch the official “welcome” to Winter Light with one of the organizers and Councillor Ben Henderson (Councillor Kim Krushell was also in attendance):

Next up for Winter Light is Deep Freeze on 118th Avenue, which takes place this weekend on January 10th and 11th. Activities include outdoor curling, free hay rides, snowshoeing, snow sculpting workshops, and of course, free food! On January 15th the sixth annual Ice on Whyte festival gets underway.

Although there were far more people out for the much colder New Year’s Eve than there were tonight, I wouldn’t call the festival’s success into question just yet. The main events are what will really draw people in, and tonight was basically just free marketing for those events.

I’m excited to see how the next 10 weeks unfold – I’d say Winter Light 2009 is off to a fairly good start. You can see my photos from this evening at Flickr, and some video at YouTube.

UPDATE: Sharon posted her thoughts and a bit more about the food at her blog.

Critiquing Edmonton’s Winter Light website

winter light 2009 Two weeks ago, I wondered where the website was for Edmonton’s new winter festival. A few days after that post, the official website was launched. Now that I’ve had a chance to look at it, I thought I’d post a bit of a critique. But first, here’s some new information that was released at the same time:

Opening Ceremonies and the Winter Light Gala will launch the event January 8 at 10:00 AM in City Hall and Churchill Square. The Opening Ceremonies will preview highlights of Winter Light 2009 programming with outdoor performances, a "Blessing Fire", and a media launch with special guests, dignitaries and hot chocolate.

"I think winter has been one of Edmonton’s best kept secrets for too long," says event director Pamela Anthony. "Our goal is to showcase all the wonderful aspects of our winter city – the incredible recreation opportunities, the gorgeous river valley environment, and the culture and heritage of winter peoples."

I wanted to point out that quote, because it contains a lot of imagery that I’d love to see showcased on the website. Unfortunately, it’s not there at the moment. The first thing you see at the website is an annoying ten second flash intro. Totally useless, totally a waste of my time. Once you’re past that however, things start to improve.

The main page features a nice winter scene, with the city skyline, people participating in winter activities, and the catchphrase written in the style of northern lights – let it glow, let it glow, let it glow. The site is broken up into five main sections – Winter Light (about the festival), events, calendar, resources, and contacts.

Winter Light 2009 Website

Here are the things I really like about the site:

  • The integrated Google Map (available on event pages and the resources page) is great. Very quick way to see where everything is happening.
  • Using Google Calendar in place of yet another custom calendar was very smart. Well done. Makes it easy to add things to your own calendar too.
  • Consistent layout and colors.

And here are some things I’d like to see improved:

  • The RSS feed is currently empty. Make use of that! Better yet, add a proper blog to the site.
  • Get rid of the “people” banner that appears above the content on most pages. It’s unnecessary, and increases the amount of scrolling people have to do.
  • Integrate a photo sharing site like Flickr into the photos page. I’m not going to email you my photos (see my reasoning here)!
  • Add some actual resources. Showcase the river valley! Teach me about the culture and heritage of winter peoples! The website doesn’t contain any of that.
  • Update the site frequently during the months the festival is active. Change the main page to showcase the current and/or next event taking place.

For the techies reading this – the site was built using Joomla, and it appears to be hosted by Webcore Labs (a Calgary company!). Not sure if it was built in-house or by a design firm – anyone know?

I also wanted to mention that I love the Winter Light logo. It’s simple and attractive, and the two color schemes work well (white/light blue/blue for dark backgrounds, and light blue/blue/dark blue for white backgrounds). Making the word “winter” bold is a nice touch, and reinforces the idea that the event is all about celebrating the season most love to hate. Well done on the visual identity I say.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not critiquing the website just for the fun of it! I have two main goals with this post. First, I am hopeful that someone from the team will read my comments and consider making the suggested improvements. Second, I am looking for lessons that can be applied to the Halloween Edmonton website, as that festival would be very similar – an umbrella for existing events along with a few new ones.

So far, so good!