Let There Be Lights! Crystal Bridges brings back popular North Forest installation

Let There Be Lights! Crystal Bridges brings back popular North Forest installation
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has announced that the popular outdoor exhibit “North Forest Lights” will be returning to the museum in September and running through January 2022. This marks the third — and probably final — chance for Northwest Arkansans to see the popular installation, says Beth Bobbitt, the museum’s media relations director.

“We brought North Forest Lights back for the third and final season because of the overwhelming response and desire to activate our grounds in new ways,” says Bobbitt. “We wanted to create an immersive sound and light experience that offers deeper appreciation for the Ozark landscape and its changing seasons.”

When the first iteration of the exhibit arrived on the museum’s lush grounds in November of 2019, it was billed as an out-of-this-world experience “unlike anything Crystal Bridges has ever presented before.”

“It was all about developing this idea of the digital bonfire — a place that we invite people to connect and to share positive vibes, adding to that the layer of making what we believe,” said Marie Belzil, creative director of the Moment Factory, the Montreal-based multimedia and entertainment studio that produced the exhibit, in an interview with this newspaper’s reporter Jocelyn Murphy shortly after the exhibit opened. “Because we’ve been passing so much time in nature, we believe that nature has a soul. This was also an opportunity to talk about that. That’s the first thing we knew, for sure. But then it really all started from site visits — walking the path many times, feeling the vibe of the different places, looking at this natural scenography. Basically, the nature became our canvas.”

In the exhibit, five installations sprawl through the North Forest and illuminate the darkness with dancing light shows synced to moody, calming music that envelops the viewer. In 2019, the exhibit proved to be so popular — Bobbitt says 109,000 people strolled the woods and enjoyed the sights and sounds — that it came back a second time, starting in September 2020 and running until April of 2021. That time, the exhibit pulled in 83,000 visitors.

“The entire atmosphere is magical,” says Crystal Bridges visitor Holly Hodge, who has seen the North Forest Lights twice now — and plans to attend a third time. “Being outside also made it a little bit of a unique experience because the second time I went, it actually snowed! The snow added another layer of beauty as it fell through the lights and fog, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at peace. Even though it was crowded, walking through was a deeply personal experience. Walking through made me feel like I was a part of something really fantastic and pure.” (Courtesy Photo)

“North Forest Lights is a unique experience, in that it’s the first outdoor sound and light installation for the museum,” says Bobbitt. “In terms of attendance, it ranks near the top with offerings such as the Chihuly exhibition and the Frank Lloyd Wright House. We hear from guests who return multiple times that it’s a way to connect to art, nature, and is also safe and family friendly.”

Its family friendly nature became even more important in 2020, when the global pandemic shut down indoor activities, leaving parents with precious few options when it came to entertaining kids. Chelsea Duncan Rodman is one of the many parents who took advantage of the relatively safe outside environment during the pandemic.

“Jaysen loved the Hearth,” says Rodman of her 10-year-old son. The Hearth is the “beating heart” of the exhibit, a mesmerizing bonfire-like sculpture. “He would have sat there forever watching it. The second time we went, we took the grandma that hadn’t gone the first time and he had so much fun showing her everything — he couldn’t wait to show her his favorite. This time was during the pandemic, and we weren’t getting to do a lot, so he soaked it up. His other favorite thing was sipping hot chocolate while strolling through.”

Rodman says she thinks the exhibit would be an excellent choice for all kids, though the older children might get more out of it.

“A couple of the exhibits, to really experience them the way you should, you have to stand still, watch, and listen for a bit,” she says.

Bobbitt says there are some “tweaks” to the exhibit this time around, but all of the previous favorites will be there to enjoy. Also returning are the popular Snow Globe Experience — a three-hour adventure inside a see-through dome featuring specialty food, cocktails and a Snow Globe concierge.

“Overall, it’s the same great experience,” she says.



North Forest Lights

WHEN — Through Jan. 2

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville

COST — $7-$22; kids 6 and younger free

INFO — 657-2335 or crystalbridges.org

Categories: In The News