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Ghent made a cautious but ambitious move to launch its own light festival in 2011. Since then, the event has become established as the Ghent Light Festival.

The Ghent Light Plan, since 1998

The city of Ghent launched a comprehensive Light Plan for the city centre in 1998. Not only was there a cohesive design for the lighting of its streets and squares, but its monuments and iconic buildings were illuminated too.

The city lighting emphasises the architectural details of buildings, creates ambience and lends an identity to the streets and squares. In short, the Ghent Light Plan, already an international award winner, allows visitors to experience the city in a different way at night.

Beginnings of the Ghent Light Festival

In 2011, to bolster the Ghent Light Plan, the city of Ghent organised its first Light Festival. The Light Festival is free to enjoy and allows visitors to experience the city in a new way. Over the festival period, visitors follow a route through the city which features innovative installations and original works of art.

This brings visitors into contact with light sculptures and public-space art in an accessible manner. Art, design and technology are incorporated in the various light installations, bringing a sprinkle of magic and wonder to the streets of Ghent.

With each new edition different parts of the city are highlighted, which is why the Light Festival follows a different route every time.

Collaboration with local actors

Since its first edition, the Ghent Light Festival has been ahead of the trends by focusing strongly on local integration and cocreation with various local actors.

The Light Festival gives artists, students and other players in Ghent an opportunity to lend shape to the Light Festival, with a view to striking a balance between emerging, young, local talent and more established names. In this way, several local artists and students on creative courses, who initially gained work experience through the Ghent Light Festival, have gone on to establish themselves at other festivals, domestically and internationally.

Local participation

The Ghent Light Festival always aims for cocreation and participation, calling on the residents of Ghent to contribute to the light installations. From “hier licht Gent” to “lockdownlights” and “It’s a question of blue”, every edition has contained works to which the people of Ghent have made an active contribution.

Ghent and its pioneering role in light festivals

The success of the Ghent Light Festival has grown steadily with each edition. The first edition, in 2011, was visited by 200,000 people. Since then the Light Festival has grown steadily to 450,000 visitors in 2012, 640,000 visitors in 2016 and about 800,000 visitors in 2018 and 2021. In 2024 the Light Festival was visited by 600,000 people.

The Ghent Light Festival gained national and international recognition, and similar initiatives were soon to follow in other Belgian cities, including Brussels, Bruges and Ostend. Artists that took part in the early editions of the Ghent Light Festival soon appeared at other light festivals. A new trend in art, design and technology emerged and spread quickly, not only through Belgium but across national borders.

Despite the emergence of several light spectacles, the Ghent Light Festival has managed to assert its leading position in Belgium as an artistic pioneer and attractor thanks to the following elements and continual, innovative initiatives:

Clear message

The aim of the light festival is to amaze and charm visitors through accessible art in public spaces and a varied range of artworks. Art to astonish, amaze and impress every visitor, where the city provides the context and backdrop.

Innovative installations

With each edition, the Ghent Light Festival continues to focus on a mix of light sculptures, video mapping and more spectacular pieces, all of which incorporate the latest technologies. These include Artificial Intelligence (AI), drones, laser technology, satellite images, European Space Agency (ESA) technology, ESA data visualisation, Earth observation satellites, etc., as well as crafts such as those seen at Reï.

Alternating route

Ghent is a city with a lot to offer in terms of architecture, art, technology, culture, design, etc. To showcase the versatility of the Artevelde city and keep the visitors inspired, the Ghent Light Festival looks for new areas of the city to illuminate with each edition. The route has changed for the last six editions, whereas most other light festivals usually keep to the same perimeter.

Artist selection process

The Ghent Light Festival actively searches for suitable artists at home and abroad. The Ghent Light Festival also seeks collaborations with various higher education institutions that offer creative pathways, such as the LUCA of KASK.

Accessible application process

Prior to each edition, the Ghent Light Festival launches an open call which is highly accessible compared to other light festivals. Anyone with a good (rudimentary) idea can submit a proposal. No standards are set. The city also provides production and technical support for novice or non-professional entrants and works ideas into real-world installations.

Cocreation by residents

First and foremost, the light festival is for the people of Ghent. This is why the Ghent Light Festival goes out of its way to give them their say and offer real opportunities to participate. In every edition there are multiple installations in which residents can actively participate. In past editions these have included: Hier Licht Gent, Gent in 3D, The sound of Light, Dancing House , The Cloud, Keys of Light, Een Warm Nest , Lockdownlights, Diving into a Sea of Colours en Gentse Gezichten.

Focus on sustainability

What follows is a list of the Ghent Light Festival's main efforts to host the most sustainable event possible.

  • The Ghent Light Festival is a member of the International Light Festivals Organisation (ILO) and has signed the sustainability charter.
  • Event location choice: the event takes place in the city and makes maximum use of the existing city infrastructures, context and backdrop. The construction set-up is therefore very small.
  • Mobility: the Light Festival route it is easy to access by foot, bike, tram, bus or train. The extensive route and open entry (no starting point, no tickets, access, registration etc.) allow multiple ways to reach the location from all 4 directions and by every mode of transportation. Manned and additional bike parking facilities are provided, and a car park is also transformed into a temporary bike park.
  • Artist transport: the artists are given all the information they need to travel to the Light Festival by public transport. The city of Ghent also offers to set up and dismantle the installation, so that the artist needn’t travel unnecessarily.
    Transportation of installations: cooperations with other light festivals are established to prevent artworks from being created for single use. Unnecessary transportation is avoided wherever possible by transferring an artwork directly to the next event, for example, and storing it there rather than returning it to the artist's home base.
  • Water and energy: from a technical perspective, there is an ongoing search for the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly materials. Modern techniques and projectors now use more economical alternatives, and if power cannot be supplied through the normal channels, the most environmentally friendly solutions are sought. Additional power consumption during the light festival Is significantly reduced by turning off as much of the public lighting as possible. Additional toilets are installed only where necessary along the route, based on crowd dispersal.
  • Waste and materials: arrangements for extra waste collections are made with IVAGO for the duration of the light festival, and several extra waste bins are placed along the route. A limited-edition paper map of the Light Festival is produced, and clear reference is always made to the information available online.

Continual leveraging of strengths

Despite its pioneering role, the Ghent Light Festival is still much loved by the people of Ghent. Almost to 7 out of 10 city residents visit the Light Festival once or several times an edition, making the Light Festival the most accessible event in Ghent.

Following editions will continue to focus on the strengths of the event, i.e. the city as the backdrop, cocreation and participation.