The Lights On Tampa program was developed by the City of Tampa’s Art Programs Division, in conjunction with regional businesses, volunteers, and art supporters. It was an ambitious project that sought to reaffirm Tampa’s commitment to arts and technology by presenting highly visible, innovative light installations created by juried artists.
The program opened on January 7, 2006, with six works by artists Jorge Orta, Wendy Babcox, Bay Stage Lighting, Erwin Redl, Tobey Archer, and Stephen Knapp. On opening night, 20,000 people braved the cold to be part of the Lights On Tampa experience, and thousands more viewed the installations during subsequent nights. Phase II of the program began March 17, with a video and sound installation by artist Jeff Whipple at the Tampa Museum of Art and a transformation of the Poe Garage by Janet Echelman. See installations from 2006. 2006 Jurors included: Patricia C. Phillips, Editor of the Art Journal and Chairman of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at New Paltz; James Rondeau, The Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the New Yorker magazine.
Lights On Tampa 2009 kicked off January 10, 2009 with five installations which ran three weeks through Superbowl Sunday, as Tampa was the host city. Artists included: Chris Doyle, Casa Magica (Sabine Weissinger & Friedrich Foerster), Will Pappenheimer & Chipp Jansen, Carlton Ward, Jr. and Marina Zurkow. See installations from 2009. 2009 Jurors included: Dave Hickey, cultural critic and scholar, Anne Pasternak, director, Creative Time, Inc, Jerry Saltz, art critic New York Magazine.
In 2011, Lights On Tampa was one of the first major events to take place at the new Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Projects included digital mapping by Pablo Valbuena, animations by Eva Lee, Molly Schwartz, and Juliet Davis & Stephanie Tripp, as well as an interactive dance project, “shadow plays” by Jennifer Rossoff. Also featured was Leo Villareal’s permanent installation, “Sky”, on the façade of the Tampa Museum of Art.
Mayor Buckhorn launched “Agua Luces”, the bridge lighting initiative in 2012, in time for the Republican National Convention, a project by lighting designer Tracey Dear. Partners that made this possible were Tampa Electric Company and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. In 2015 Lights On Tampa expanded to a two-day event, and incorporated multiple art disciplines including performance, dance, original music and the literary arts.
Lights On Tampa is making a difference. Since the launch of the 2006 program several developments have incorporated light-based art into their infrastructure. Collectively, over $1 million in private development has been invested in public art for downtown and the Channel District. Lights On Tampa permanent locations include: The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the Tampa Convention Center, the Tampa Municipal Building, Skypoint, Tampa Museum of Art, TECO Line Streetcar stop at Whiting & Franklin, Tampa Port Authority Parking Garage, USF CAMLS and the Tampa Riverwalk Portal.
The program was featured in the Americans for the Arts retrospective look at the field of 50 public art over the last 50 years, "50/50: Important, Impressive, Influential, Personally Pivotal Public Art of the Last 50 Years." The retrospective was presented by Wave Hill Director of Arts and Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor and was first delivered at the Americans for the Arts 2010 Half-Century Summit in Baltimore, Maryland in June, 2010.
Lights On Tampa installations have also been recognized by the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network for 2 projects in 2006 and 1 project in 2009 for having the best public art installations in the country. Lights On Tampa has also been awarded a local Urban Excellence Award by the Tampa Downtown Partnership and a local Best of the Bay award by Creative Loafing.
Lights On Tampa continues to be a model for other cities as a creative way to energize and educate the public about new media and the arts.