The Nicollet holiday light show

Get wowed! Experience the Nicollet holiday light show

The Nicollet holiday light show is an exciting synchrony of music and light featuring the Light Walk and Nicollet Lanterns, as well as a speaker system newly installed between 6th and 8th streets. The 10-minute extravaganza was a team effort between the City of Minneapolis and the Mpls Downtown Improvement District and offers downtown residents and visitors the opportunity to take in the downtown scene as the lights of Nicollet pulse to a musical soundtrack.

DID staffers Lisa Middag (Director of Nicollet Activation) and Jake Balistrieri (Public Space Operations Coordinator) sat down recently to talk about the development of the holiday show.


The Light Walk was designed by James Corner Field Operations primarily as an architectural lighting feature on the new Nicollet. When did you get the idea to repurpose it for a holiday light show? What inspired it?

The Light Walk came with several built-in programs that were designed to highlight special civic celebrations or events (e.g. Prince’s birthday, holidays, sporting events, etc.) But it seemed like there was another opportunity if we could bring sound into the picture. There was someone in my Longfellow neighborhood who created a synchronized holiday light show at his house every year for awhile and used a low-fi FM station to broadcast the music. There were always several cars there at all times of the night – people could not get enough of it. We wanted to have something exciting to offer on cold winter evenings that would attract and create a new downtown experience for folks.


How are you able to bring the sound element to Nicollet? Tell us more about the audio setup.

We worked closely with the City public works team on the sound installation, which was one of the final features added as part of the Nicollet reconstruction project. We found that the new infrastructure could also support an audio system—all we needed was a bit more wire and some good speakers. So now we have 24 speakers located between 6th and 8th streets 30 feet above the ground on light poles on Nicollet’s westside.


How did you design the light element?

We contracted with a local lighting design team led by Jesse Cogswell—he has done lighting installations for Universal Studios and the Mall of America. They worked with a prepared musical soundtrack to create dynamic and exciting lighting scenes that highlight all the features of the new lighting system, including the Nicollet Lanterns and the Light Walk.


What music will be playing? How was the music chosen, and who put it all together?

We worked with Todd Syring of Syring Music, LLC, a local music editor and sound designer. We talked about how we wanted the musical selection to feel dynamic, with a variety of tempos and moods, as well as an inclusive range of styles. We wanted something that had a lot of dynamism to it, but was also upbeat. But it also had to be cost effective. It turns out rights for synced sound installations are extraordinarily expensive, so we couldn’t afford popular well-known performances.


Will this extend past the holidays? Will the lights and speakers keep being used on Nicollet?

Well this is our first foray into a synchronized show, but if people enjoy it, we’re definitely looking for more opportunities down the road. We learned with our Street Show performance program this year that sound in public spaces creates some challenges, but we’re sure there will be many more opportunities to use the music (both for additional light shows and for special events). We’ve also been talking with artist and educator Diane Willow about a more experiential/spatial installation with ambient sound sometime next year. That could be really cool and offers still another take on what we can do with the new system now that the audio is in place. The possibilities are endless.