Illumination: Driving through a new world of light and sound at Morton Arboretum
In its eighth year, Illumination at Morton Arboretum is redone into a driving experience during the pandemic, making for a creative visual and audio experience.
John Featherstone is memorable, yet I walked past him without recognizing him behind his mask at Morton Arboretum.
In 2020, the world looks different.
It’s true of Illumination, too, the holiday lights display at the Arboretum in its eighth year.
During the pandemic, the Arboretum pivoted from walking path to driving route, contactless as possible. Visitors stay in their vehicles during the two-mile route. At 5 mph, figure half an hour to complete the route.
“This year has been a lot of No,” Featherstone said. “We wanted to focus on a Yes.”
Featherstone, with a history of doing rock tours and founder of Lightswitch lighting and design firm, has led the design of Illumination since the beginning. I find it one of those fascinating intersections of technology and the natural world.
He embraced the artistic challenge of making Illumination a more sweeping canvas, as “an opportunity to explore other areas.”
It also a way for people with challenges to easily enjoy the display.
“It is a balance between the traditional and the new,” he said.
Symphony Woods, Woodland Wonder and Crystal Promenade are back. The new Gateway display kick starts Illumination. Trolls were integrated. Two laser displays were added. A new favorite is Grasses, lighting based off Illinois’ state prairie grass, big bluestem.
Two favorites, Hug-A-Tree, that smackdown of the disparaging term tree hugger, and Tree Harmony (singing into tubes to change lighting) are not, obviously, in the display during the pandemic.
Featherstone said he is most pleased with the music, maybe the biggest innovation. Visitors may use their own sound or play list, or use the curated sound through their radio (88.5-FM).
“We had a great time putting the scores together, listening to Christmas music in August,” said Preston Bautista, vice president of learning and engagement.
The driving Illumination was so popular that tickets sold out quickly.
“However, the Arboretum is evaluating its capacity for the exhibition and, if space is available, additional tickets may be released at noon on Mondays each week,” emailed Tari Marshall, head of public relations.
Details are at mortonarb.org. It runs through Jan. 3.