Tripping the light fantastic


A group of Queenstown volunteers has organised the resort’s first light festival, starting this weekend. Philip Chandler sheds some light on what promises to be an awe-inspiring addition to the local events calendar

Talk about a bright idea. Take one of Queenstown’s quietest visitor periods and one of the darkest months of the year and create a world-class illumination event.

Welcome to the inaugural LUMA Southern Light Project, a free light and sculpture festival running from Friday till Sunday in the Queenstown Gardens.

The festival runs a downtown programme from next Thursday till Saturday. Some installations will stay in place till the start of WinterFest.

Locals got a taste during last year’s WinterFest, when Auckland light artist Angus Muir put up five stunning installations along Queenstown Bay and Church Lane.

Among those impressed by the pilot project, organised by the local South Island Light Orchestra (SILO) group, was Queenstown winemaker Duncan Forsyth.

“I rang up to basically offer some money and sponsorship, and somehow I ended up working [for LUMA] - that often happens in a small community.

“Having seen international events like [Australia’s festival of light and music] Vivid Sydney, Singapore’s light festival and Wellington LUX, and looking at both the landscape and also the artistic community that we have here, I thought LUMA could easily be an event that could take off.”

The group has formed a trust, which aims to cement it as a major community participation event on the Queenstown calendar.

Also inspired by other light festivals, local designer Luke Baldock conceived the idea of a local event about three years ago.

“The initial idea was to do an installation in Cow Lane as part of a Cow Lane festival, but that never came to fruition.”

However he and SILO partners Tim Buckley, Simon Holden and Daniel Green put together last winter’s pilot project to test out the viability of an annual light festival.

Like Forsyth, Baldock believes LUMA has huge potential.

“It’s an event that tries to herald our creative community, and actually demonstrate that there’s a bit more substance to Queenstown than just simply the adventure activities and tourism.”

The LUMA Light Festival Trust, which Forsyth chairs, has been successful in getting support.

It’s come from local and New Zealand artists, community trusts, the council, Destination Queenstown, Friends of the Wakatipu Gardens and Reserves, Wakatipu High and downtown and local businesses.

Now it just needs locals and visitors to throng to the Gardens this weekend.

A major attraction will be 14 light installations that will be switched on at 5.30 each night, along with two installations on Earnslaw Park and one on the waterfront.

There’ll also be the LUMA Art Walk in the Gardens featuring five major sculptures curated by local Toi o Tahuna director Mark Moran.

Pieces, which are all for sale, include a canoe made of blown and cut glass and a large gnome and a horse both made of stainless steel.

Among other offerings, Queenstown Guerrilla Drive-In will host a free outdoor cinema showing movies all three nights, The World Bar will run a pop-up bar in the rose gardens, and local group Dear Deer will perform live music with video tomorrow at 7.30pm.

There’ll be a night market tomorrow on Earnslaw Park and each day there’ll also be a science lab on the Village Green.

Wakatipu High students are contributing photographs for an exhibition that will be projected in the Gardens this Saturday night and on downtown buildings next Thursday till Saturday, from 8pm.

The budget for this year’s festival is about $75,000, but another $100,000 has been contributed in in-kind support.

Buckley adds: “The table’s set and it’s time for the community to see what we’ve created. What we’re trying to do is show how broad LUMA can be, and find out what things resonate with people that we can expand on next year.”

The LUMA trust has applied for a temporary consent to use the Gardens and Earnslaw Park for the next five years.