The Vocal Local: Dapper Man

Brendan Bunting is a Blackpool-based youth worker and artist. Find him on Twitter @DapperArtist

The Blackpool Illuminations, or ‘The Lights’ as they are known affectionately by locals, have long needed investment.

With over six miles of glorious creative light displays, the illuminations still attract millions per year, to chug along in queues of traffic whilst admiring one of the biggest free art exhibitions on the planet.

Yes, I said it, art exhibition, because The Lights are often overlooked as art, a hint of snobbery can get in the way of appreciating the true innovation of the illuminations (especially for arts organisations that missed out on Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, or NPO, status and funding).

With Blackpool’s motto being ‘Progress’ it seems fitting that as a town we have the rich heritage of being a trailblazer in light displays, inspiring communities around the world to use light as an artistic medium to engage and entertain audiences.

As much as our illuminations are admired though, locals and visitors alike have long begged for investment in them. Sadly, the display has become tired and outdated in places, which can often lead to disparaging comments about even the notion of planning a trip to come see The Lights.

Thankfully, as a town we have recognised the need for investment so it’s pleasing to say that the local authority is set to invest millions into the illuminations.

I feel that whatever happens next, the illuminations and Lightpool need to continue to put community at the heart of all their art.

The investment is possible thanks to two successful funding bids. First £4.5m from Blackpools successful bid in 2020 for Towns Deal funding. Secondly £225k a year from Arts Council England (ACE) for the next three years.

The ACE funding is the game changer as Blackpool illuminations is now recognised as an official NPO alongside the likes of the Tate Modern, or more locally The Grand Theatre and The Grundy Art Gallery. For an Arts organisation to be awarded NPO status is a recognition of not only hard-work, but a great level of creative community engagement.

Blackpool illuminations has its contemporary art arm Lightpool to thank for this. Lightpool was a concept envisioned by LeftCoast (Blackpool’s ACE-funded Creative People and Places project) and Blackpool Council over five years ago.

It saw not only temporary exhibitions of contemporary light sculptures and installation artworks on display during the October half-term, but performative work to. During the last five years Lightpool has been able to develop and establish itself as one of the most prominent Northern Light festivals in the UK.

So with the funding in place what next for our world famous illuminations?

Well there is talk of embracing the latest drone and light technology for the main stretch of the display, and Lightpool will continue to showcase international talent, whilst growing their offer of opportunities for local residents to engage in.

I feel that whatever happens next, the illuminations and Lightpool need to continue to put community at the heart of all their art. The Lights are often seen as purely a tourist attraction by locals, a pursuit for the out of towners. But with this funding as a town we have an opportunity purposely engage the local community, whilst putting on a show for the world.

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