The museumpresents the 18th annual Winter Lights Lantern Festival on view now through January 16. The lanterns are displayed outside on Wade Oval, inside the museum, and for the first time, on the new east wing terrace. Inspired by cross-cultural ceremonial lighting traditions, the community arts festival is a seasonal museum celebration. “Creating the Environment of Lights each year is an opportunity to do something non-traditional with lighting during a traditional season,” said Robin VanLear, artistic director of the museum’s community arts program. “The way that light totally transforms things interests me. In Cleveland, our public art canvas for winter is mostly dark because the days are shorter. Through these installations, light becomes your palette.”
The Lighting of Hill House, featured on the east wing terrace, is a simple form house inspired by the iconic board game Monopoly. The Recycling of Hill House, located in the museum’s education lobby,depicts a fantasy world in which a small central house rests amidst a landscape of oversized flora. House on Stilts, located on Wade Oval, includes a stylized house in miniature encircled by four very large, colorful birds.
VanLear has been working with concepts of home for the Environment of Lights for many years. She says it was inspired by what home means in American society. The first “Hill House” was created by re-imagining what happens in stories when the people down below continue to look at the iconic house on the hill, the house that is often placed on a pedestal.
“Before I moved to Cleveland, I lived in Santa Barbara and I used to look at the houses on the hill and think about how they would be too expensive for most people to ever afford,” Van Lear said. “That was probably the trigger for the first one. The idea of home being a dream deferred. Cleveland was a city being reborn at that time as well. Over the years, we just kept exploring the theme.”
Crafting the Environment of Lights also offered the opportunity to collaborate with other artists and to involve the community in creating the art. The flora in the Recycling of Hill House is made of recycled materials. Artists Debbie Apple-Presser and Wendy Mahon designed the plants featured in the installation. Elements of the plants were crafted with the assistance of residents from Abington Arms. Abington Arms is a federally funded housing facility for the elderly located in the heart of University Circle. The residents enjoy collaborating with museum staff to craft creations to support our community arts efforts.
“Visually, The Recycling of Hill House creates an interesting juxtaposition with the traditional Hill House,” VanLear said. “It uses bright colors versus the simple stark Hill House. The recycled materials represent the idea that if your manmade environment starts to decline, it makes space for your earth environment to get better.”
Community participation helped make the lantern procession that marked the end of each year’s Holiday CircleFest come alive. This year, the Shaw High School Rhythm Teens provided music for the participating artists.
“I first met the Shaw band last year in New Orleans  and they participated in this year’s Parade the Circle,” VanLear said. “By involving them in some of the things we do, we support a neighborhood music program and expose them to the museum.”
-- Kesha Williams