Baltimore is known more for its challenges rather than its potential. While the city faces significant obstacles, it also has developed remarkable momentum moving towards a brighter future. In order to attract new residents, businesses, and other resources critical to the future success of the city, it’s necessary to expand the prevailing narrative of Baltimore to include more of the positive things happening here.
Light City was conceived to be a catalyst that would help Baltimore unlock untapped potential. We were inspired to dream, design and build a festival that would capture the attention of the world. As a grassroots effort with no financial backing, we launched a business (Light City, LLC) and a multi-year campaign to bring the festival to life.
The festival was a self-initiated project developed by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen to position Baltimore as a global hub of innovation. The initiative was designed to have a substantial annual economic impact and an overall positive effect by introducing the world to the breadth of remarkable individuals and organizations working to help the city reach its full potential.
With the help of a team that grew to an estimated 500 people that included the city’s events office, multiple nonprofits, corporate sponsors, institutions, artists, entertainers, and individual volunteers, the Light City concept came to life in 2016. In its first year, the festival attracted over 400,000 visitors to Baltimore and created $33.8 million of economic impact to the local economy. In its second year, the festival generated an estimated $44.3 million in economic impact and reached over a billion people globally through various media channels.
“It’s hard to measure how you uplift a community, but I think we were able to do that,” Light City co-founder, Brooke Hall. “Light City is my baby…” Hall said. “I’m excited to see it grow.” The Baltimore Sun, May 18 2016
A roadtrip, a vision, a beginning
The Light City concept was developed and honed by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen over several years after experiencing first-hand the transformational power of remarkable events. While brainstorming during a road trip in August of 2013, multiple back burner ideas came together with inspiration from international light festivals to form the foundation for what would become Light City. Before arriving at their destination, the festival was named, website domains were purchased, and preliminary messaging work was underway.
The original Light City concept had three main components. Light art draws large crowds together to have an unforgettable shared experience. The innovation conferences attract thought leaders, entrepreneurs and change makers to Baltimore to create meaningful connections within the city. The third component is music because no celebration is complete without music.
The first critical component to moving Light City forward was to carefully craft value propositions and presentations for every stakeholder that we approached for support. We assembled a team of advisors who provided access to influential networks and feedback on messaging. We refined our pitch over time and presented our idea to anyone who would listen in board rooms, backyards, and radio stations. The initial messaging for Light City won us early earned media, grants, and an innovation award as well as buy-in from all necessary players.
Research, Planning and Fundraising
In collaboration with Lindsey Davis, we performed market research and developed a plan, festival model and budget with a clear path for ROI. After a successful round of fundraising and receiving an innovation award, we hired a world renowned light festival consultant, Ignatius Jones, to assist us in developing a feasibility study, exciting the public as to the potential of the festival, and pitching potential partners, including BGE who eventually agreed to become the lead sponsor, thus inspiring many others in the corporate community to purchase sponsorships.
Outreach and Activations
We facilitated over 65 meetings with city leaders, potential sponsors and artists. Phase I of the Light City initiative culminated with a VIP reception at the Four Seasons to energize city stakeholders and develop momentum to help secure sponsorships. These photos are from the first Light City event in March 2014.
Convening the Team
We enlisted major sponsors, steering committee members including the co-chairs, the production team, and key partners and brought them to the table together, which resulted in the Mayor’s approval to move forward with the festival. We crafted informational materials, sponsorship proposals, presentations, videos, and messaging to help recruit additional volunteers to the team and secure funding.
What Works Studio developed the brand, logo, style guide and the core messaging which outlines the purpose for the festival and its potential impact on the city. Light City was designed to be a grand collaboration by and for the residents of Baltimore and for their benefit.
Website and Mobile App
We developed the original LightCity.org website and designed the Light City mobile app.
We consulted on advertising efforts throughout the I-95 corridor for the festival and developed marketing tactics, messaging, audiences segments, and creative to market four distinct, two-day conferences to audiences throughout the East Coast. Our marketing efforts resulted in four sold out conferences in the first year.
In 2016, we developed, programmed, and managed four innovation conferences in collaboration with Intrinsic Events, sponsors, and volunteers, which featured over 140 thought leaders and explored innovations in four key areas: Social Innovation, Sustainability, Health and Creative Industries.
A Transformational Event
In 2016, the free, week-long annual festival consisted of 29 large-scale light installations, over 100 music concerts and performances, and four ticketed innovation conferences. The festival succeeded in becoming a city-wide collaboration and a significant tool for economic development, civic engagement and tourism. In 2017, Light City was expanded to nine nights and eight neighborhoods. Over the last two years, Light City has already added $78.1 Million to the local economy and has become Baltimore biggest, most impactful annual festival in the city’s history.
Enjoy photos from Light City 2016 below.