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Illuminating Plymouth for Mayflower 400

For four cold evenings at the end of November each year, the Illuminate light festival transforms locations across Plymouth with beautiful projection mapping, light art installations and playful interactive content, created by local, national and international artists.

The spectacular festival transforms Royal William Yard to create an immersive experience for all ages. New for the 2019 festival, Illuminate expanded to light up two new locations – Mount Edgcumbe Country Park and the Barbican – and welcomed 50,000 visitors across the weekend.

Illuminate forms part of the wider Mayflower 400 programme and will go on to lead a national moment during Thanksgiving celebrations in November 2019 and 2020, to connect Mayflower partner destinations across the UK and internationally.

The partnership behind the festival was established by the Real Ideas OrganisationUniversity of PlymouthPlymouth College of Art and Plymouth Culture, in response to the city’s growing creative and digital sector; to celebrate local talent and to create collaborative cultural experiences and opportunities that develop and recognise their work.

Plymouth is a city of incredibly talented makers with a vibrant and growing cultural scene, but creative opportunities are somewhat limited in the city, particularly in the development of immersive and digital content. Illuminate aims to provide a platform for those creative graduates and makers to exhibit on a national scale alongside established artists. Each year the festival supports emerging and student artists to develop their work, through research and development workshop days and guidance from its production and technical team before it is displayed at the festival in November. In 2019, Illuminate worked with over 100 students in creative courses at Plymouth universities.

The canvas for their work and home to the festival is Royal William Yard, a historic victualling yard in Plymouth. Built in the 19th century, the Yard is comprised in the majority by the original buildings from its construction. During the open call to artists, the brief focuses heavily on the architecture and location of the festival and encourages artists to take inspiration from the Yard’s original architecture. The 2019 festival saw the original Mills Bakery building transformed through projection mapping into a ‘Tree of Memory’, which over 9 minutes grew from a seed into a mesmerising fully grown tree (see above). Other artworks which took inspiration from the Yard include ‘Laser Halyard’, an interactive laser installation created by Cornish-based artists Greenwave Laser. The artwork invited audiences to haul, using a real rope, laser projected signal flags up the bakery chimney (see right).

Now in its fourth year, Illuminate is a signature event in Plymouth’s annual calendar and is enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. The festival also forms part of the wider Mayflower 400 programme, a year-long series of events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the historic journey of the Mayflower ship. Illuminate 2019 opened the Mayflower year of commemorations, and the 2020 festival will go on to lead a national moment during Thanksgiving celebrations next year, to connect Mayflower partner destinations across the UK and internationally.

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