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One of the Pacific Northwest’s largest cultural events of the winter season is taking on a new feel this season.

Organizers of the Portland Winter Light Festival have rebranded the 2021 version the Portland Winter Light (non)Festival in recognition of changes it will undertake because of the current coronavirus pandemic.

The festival, known locally as PDXWLF, is an outdoor event held in the middle of winter when there are a limited number of cultural events being held. Organized by the Willamette Light Brigade, the event aims to build community through the efforts of artists, businesses, organizations, and the public.

"McCoy Millwork" by Meyer Pro
Brooke Hoyer / Portland Winter Light Festival ("McCoy Millwork" by Meyer Pro)

This year’s PDXWLF will take place over the first two weekends of February, from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, February 5-6 and 12-13.

“This past year has demonstrated that we all need art, connection, and community more than ever,” executive director Alisha Sullivan said in a statement released by the Portland Business Alliance. “When we approached local businesses, organizations, and artists about moving ahead with this year’s experience, we weren’t sure what the response would be -- but we were amazed by the positive reaction.”

The first five editions of the event were held in a single location along the waterfront. This year, the Brigade has collaborated with community members, artists, and businesses to present lighting displays, art installations in windows, and video projections throughout Portland.

"The Cosmic Messenger" by Miki Masuhara-Page
Sean Gentry / Portland Winter Light Festival ("The Cosmic Messenger" by Miki Masuhara-Page)

Even with the festival spread all over the city, visitors are required to follow social distancing protocols and wear masks.

“Enjoy the art from six feet apart,” the Brigade said.

Last year’s event drew more than 210,000 attendees and showcased just under 200 illuminated art installations and fire sculptures along the waterfront. There were dance performances, educational events, live ice carving, and more.

This year will feature much of the same, only spread all across the city at parks, participating businesses, and other public spaces. A printable map and a Google Map of all the locations are available on the PDXWLF website.

“It’s clear everyone is craving a sense of placemaking and civic engagement,” Sullivan said. “We’re honored to bring some bright light to our city just when we need it most.”

Lighting up Portland is nothing new for the Willamette Light Brigade. Since 1986, the non-profit has helped light the numerous bridges in the city that cross the Willamette River. Many of the lighting projects take on themes, including later this month when the lights on Morrison Bridge will recognize breast cancer awareness.

Founders of the group were inspired by the Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France, and Australia’s Vivid, held annually in Sydney. The latter features a spectacular lighting of the Sydney Opera House.

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