The Portland Winter Light Festival Returns in February

Interactive displays are back on the roster following two years of touchless installations as a COVID precaution.

While slogging through several COVID winters, the Portland Winter Light Festival literally became a beacon of hope during some dark times, which means we should all have a little newfound appreciation for the event when it returns for its eighth year next month.

The free, outdoor celebration of illumination, whose theme is “The Light of Stars,” begins in just over two weeks on Friday, Feb. 3, and runs through Saturday, Feb. 11. There will be more than 100 works of art set up throughout the city, including neighborhoods in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland, though the bulk of the installations will be located downtown.

During 2021 and 2022, the festival pivoted to touch-free art as a COVID precaution; however, interactive displays will be back. Some of the highlights include the return of Fire Art, who, following a two-year hiatus, will fill Pioneer Courthouse Square with fire and ice sculptures as well as pop-up performances; two levels of hands-on light art at the World Trade Center; and large-scale projection mapping along with a silent disco dance party at Southeast 2nd Avenue and Clay Street.

In addition to that, the event will feature its first formal artist commission. Mechan 42: Space Explorer is a 16-foot-tall space robot by Tyler FuQua Creations, which will be located at Salmon Springs Fountain throughout February.

Attendees should keep in mind that anchor sites, like Pioneer Courthouse Square and the World Trade Center, will only be open Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3-4 and Feb. 10-11. However, visitors are encouraged to treat the rest of the city like a giant scavenger hunt and visit as many displays as possible.

“Now, more than ever, we need art and creativity to help us celebrate the special vitality that makes Portland unique and gives us a reason to come together for some fun and levity after a few hard years,” Portland Winter Light Festival executive director Alisha Sullivan stated in a press release. “We are honored to work with so many incredible artists, venues, businesses, and organizations that bring this citywide event to life. It is a collaborative effort, and we can’t wait to fill Portland with light art again in February!”