City Curator Blog: Light Is Coming

01 March 2024

I’ve mentioned previously two hero festivals that I’m exploring, one of those is the idea of Birmingham Light Festival. 

An annual multi-day event that will bring the city-centre to life at night through transforming Birmingham into an extraordinary gallery of illuminated artworks.

Imagine some of our most iconic city-centre spaces and buildings brought to life through light in the darker days of winter….

There are some fantastic examples of light festivals in the UK (and beyond). If you’re new to the idea of light art, check out the UK’s Light Art Biennial – Lumiere (link to, in Durham or Liverpool’s River of Light (link to for some fantastic examples. 

Festival concepts like these encourage local people to explore and experience their city in a (forgive the pun) different light, but this is also the kind of event that appeals to tourists and visitors to a city, so it will be a driver for visits from further afield, too.

The other fantastic thing about these kinds of festivals is the proven track record they have in delivering footfall and associated spend for local businesses. Take, for example, Bristol Light Festival 2023: 250,000 people turned out to explore the city with £3.3million of spend directly attributed to the event taking place. The same number of people attended River of Light in Liverpool in 2022 and some of the data that Liverpool ONE (a shopping, residential, and leisure complex in Liverpool city centre) shared was really insightful; half-term week fell within the bounds of the event, and it was their busiest week of the year to date (October). Post 5pm, footfall was up by 89%, retail store visits were up by 37%, and restaurant visits up by 35%.

I’ve started to collate my thinking on what the key principles of Birmingham Light Festival might be, and I thought I’d share those here for interest:

PLACE: We will connect audiences with the city in a positive, creative, and playful way through light art that makes connections with Birmingham; its heritage, its USPs and its people

ECONOMIC: A festival designed to encourage curiosity and creativity but with driving footfall and increasing spend in local businesses at the heart of the proposition

COLLABORATIVE: A festival with collaboration at its heart, with City Centre BIDS uniting alongside both private and public partners to deliver the best for the city

ACTIVE: Artworks will all be within walking distance of one another, showcasing Birmingham as a walkable city and encouraging visitors to actively explore the city centre

SOCIAL: Some artworks will be participatory, encouraging social experience – enhancing community cohesion and human connection

SAFE: We will use the first year of the festival to explore how we can improve perceptions of safety through light 

INCLUSIVE: Light art is accessible to all and resonates with a wider audience, and in taking this art to the streets of Birmingham city centre, we remove some of the barriers that exist with traditional art forms

SUSTAINABLE: Working in an environmentally sustainable way across all areas of the festival, including using sustainability as a criteria for commissions

LEGACY: Working with partners to explore whether one light art commission per year might be able to remain in place as a longer-term installation, brightening and enhancing city spaces more permanently over time

It’s an ambitious project, and as with all of these big ideas, you have to start somewhere. So,here’s where we’re starting:

With the help of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, I have joined forces with producers Outdoor Places Unusual Spaces and Colmore BID to bring a dazzling mirror ball installation to the city centre in just a few weeks’ time. Our Beating Heart will pop-up in Snow Hill Square between Thursday 21 to Saturday 23 March. 

This giant heart-shaped mirror ball will reflect natural light during the day, and as the sun sets, it will transform the space with fantastical dancing lights and an eye-catching wash of colour. You can experience this immersive artwork at its best from 6.30pm to 10.30pm each evening. The experience is completely free to enjoy.

How does this connect to the bigger picture idea of Birmingham Light Festival, I hear you ask? Well, visitors to Our Beating Heart will be invited to share their thoughts when they visit, and that insight will help to inform our thinking on the wider festival idea.

I’m really excited to see how audiences respond to this artwork. I also strongly feel that there has never been a more important moment for the people of this city to come together and share some love and positivity. Birmingham is facing incredibly difficult times, but this is still a truly fantastic city to live in, to work in, to visit, and to do business in. It’s a city full of resilient and creative people and I hope many of you will take this opportunity to experience part of the city centre in a different light. 

We’re inviting anyone who visits the Birmingham premiere of Our Beating Heart to take a photo and share it on social media with the hashtag #lovebirmingham. Let’s spread some much-needed positivity about this special place we all call home!

You can read more about the installation here.