Light City says Baltimore’s brand needs a makeover

Can a three-pronged mega-festival do the trick? The organizers of Light City Baltimore were at Betamore Wednesday asking for the tech scene's help.

Light City Baltimore organizers Brooke Hall and Jamie McDonald unveil plans at Betamore, March 2015. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

About a year from now, a collection of organizers are planning to debut Light City Baltimore. But, according to those same organizers, the chance for locals to have a voice in what the festival will look like starts now.
Conceived by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen of What Works Studio and What Weekly, the weeklong festival is being pitched as a three-part event that includes an innovation conference and tech showcase, a music festival and a light show featuring installations around the harbor. The inspiration came from Vivid SydneySXSW and other large-scale events.

We're not looking to rebrand Baltimore. We're just looking to brand Baltimore.

After percolating on the idea for close to five years, Hall and Allen got buy-in late last year from people who have experience running festivals at the Baltimore Office of Promotion of the Arts (BOPA) (of Artscape fame), people who have experience attracting tourism at Visit Baltimore and officials at City Hall. To fund the festival, the organization is aiming to raise about $4 million from private donors.
At a meeting with members of the local tech and innovation community at Betamore on Wednesday, representatives from each of those organizations (and others) described the aim of the festival.
Basically, it’s about changing what people think of when they think about Baltimore — yes, the city’s “brand” — from this:
A scene from The Wire. (HBO)
To this:
Still from Light City Baltimore promo video.
“We’re not looking to rebrand Baltimore,” said Jamie McDonald, Light City Baltimore steering committee co-chair  and cofounder of GiveCorps. “We’re just looking to brand Baltimore.”
According to Hall, the idea is that the festival will become “a place where thought leaders and innovators from around the world come … every year to find out what’s next.”
Broadly speaking, the tech showcase is currently envisioned as focusing on edtech, medtech, green-tech and “entertainment tech,” which includes gaming, at the Convention Center. The innovation conference is seen as an “enormous ecosystem” of sessions that could include official events, as well as third-party workshops and meetups.
The light show is seen as a chance to showcase projects at the intersection of art and tech, featuring 20-30 medium installations, and two to four large-scale showpieces made by a mixture of local and international artists. BOPA will issue a call for artists in mid-April.
To get there, however, Hall said that the team wants to focus on what’s here. She described a “grassroots effort” to bring the festival together that “builds on ideas, talents and resources that this city already has.”
As the organizers took questions about whether they had talked to other locals who put on large-scale events in town and whether there would be a focus on sustainability, the message to the assembled crowd was that those ideas will help fill in the details of the festival.
As such, they’re planning similar stakeholder meetings with the music and art community, and said they will probably have another such session with innovators.
“It’s got a foundation that has serious legs,” McDonald said. “Now if we can successfully engage all of you, we’re off to the races.”
Dates for the first Light City Baltimore are set for March 28-April 3, 2016.

Companies: What Works Studio / Visit Baltimore / Betamore
People: Lindsey Davis / Brooke Hall / Justin Allen / Jamie McDonald
Projects: Light City

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