Holiday Lighting Traditions Grow Up

by Rebecca Christman

Milwaukee Post Columnist

Anyone walking downtown will notice the exquisite artistic presence in Cathedral Square Park. As far as December activities are concerned, things havenıt changed too much. People are still Christmas shopping and searching for places to park, while the trendy locals are still sipping chocolate flavored martinis in the bars near the Cathedral Square Park.

At 520 E. Wells Street, Cathedral Square Park has been a host to many popular activities, including the Holiday Light Festival. Along with other Milwaukee parks and homes, Cathedral Square is bursting with holiday lights.

Yes, lights are synonymous with the holiday spirit, and they pop up everywhere. As a decorative element of the season, they brighten hearts just as they equally brighten homes; lights are the traditional expression of good old-fashioned holiday cheer.

But thereıs nothing old-fashioned about Cathedral Square Park this year. This innovative lighting display features is the modern feel of the ³Techno-Tree Forest.² It appears that lighting displays have matured and grown up to reach a larger, sophisticated audience. The theatrical forest marries classic elegance with urban holiday flair.

As the lights illuminate the entirety of the park, the dramatic ³trees² glow alternating shades of red, green and blue. Consisting of 20 pyramid-shaped, fabric-covered steel structures that are lit internally from the inside, the evening display exemplifies a feeling of holiday spirit.

A stretch away from traditional lighting, these trees are ever changing in such a manner that it is virtually impossible to see the same patterns twice. For the final touch, the lighting display is coordinated to the beat of holiday tunes on 97.3 FM (WLTQ).

Cathedral Square is one of three parks that make up the 4th year of the Holiday Lights Festival. Pere Marquette Park, 900 N. Plankinton Avenue, is presenting ³Santa at Sea,² showcasing the jolly Santa and other holiday personalities in nautical and underwater scenes. The third location is Zeidler Union Square, 301 W. Michigan Street, with the theme ³Holiday Fantasy,² featuring a giant red teddy bear created with lights. Organized by Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, the Holiday Lights Festival has also inspired neighborhood businesses and organizations to spread the holiday cheer by their own lighting arrangements.

Ed Hanrahan, owner of event production company Hanrahan and Associates, has been an integral part of numerous Milwaukee events, including Riversplash, Bastille Days, and the opening of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Hanrahan and Associates created and built the conceptual idea of the Techno-Tree Forest.

³The concept came out of the desire to do something different, something on the other end of the spectrum,² said Hanrahan. ³The key part was to do something different, more artistic. We took a chance and we thought it was a good alternative.²

Hanrahan and Associates also brought a Chicago lighting designer on board, Avraham Mendall Mor, to assist in the projectıs conception and creation. The high-tech display was inspired by the lighting concepts worldwide, including displays in Paris and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The techno tree forest has received considerable attention, both for its aesthetic originality and calming beauty. Its luxuriousness does a successful job at capturing the spirit, and the true soul of the holiday.

The Techno-Tree Forest has captured something that is often overlooked in light of religious holidays; it allows all people of all faith and cultures to appreciate the same element of holiday beauty and peace. And apparently, itıs catching on. Besides the trendsetters in Europe, Hanrahan said there were other cities interested in similar lighting designs, although he admits that subsequent displays were not their original intention.

If the intention was to create an artsy, universal, unique holiday lighting display that captures a solitary ideal of the holidays, well, mission accomplished.

Christmas, in the same manner of all December rituals, is capable of being a multi-cultural celebration, as its variations are seen by every culture around the globe. Yet we rarely identify the holiday as universal. Why not have modern displays in public that represent exactly that? And keep an eye out for renovations to the Techno-Tree Forest in the upcoming weeks, when a possible projection screen will be added into the blend.

If youıre interested in seeing all three of the parks involved with the Holiday Lights Festival, there is a guided tour. For just one dollar, the Miller Jingle Bus offers a guided tour of all three parks, narrated by a public service ambassador. The bus can be picked up Thursdays through Sundays at The Hilton Milwaukee City Center at 6th St. and Wisconsin Avenue, from 6:30 to 8pm. The tours run about 30 minutes.

This holiday season, take a deep, refreshing breath of artistic air through the concepts of the Techno-Tree Forest, a production that regards the holiday season as it should be ‹a universal ideal.

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