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Arts & Culture
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Illuminated Whitewater Center Trail Features Local Artist's Creations For Second Year

Courtesy U.S. National Whitewater Center
Visitors walk along the 2019-2020 "Lights" installation trail at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

While the fast pace of city life has merits, sometimes it does a person good to look past the blur of industry and take a deep breath in the trees.

People in the Charlotte area don't have to go far to experience both worlds. For the second year, the U.S. National Whitewater Center has teamed up with artist Meredith Connelly to create an illuminated art trail that's meant to get viewers to appreciate nature. The half-mile trail, called "Lights," debuts just after sundown Thursday and will stay open through February.

Last year's event was a hit.

"Last year, we had about 225,000 total visitors between November and February, and in our estimation, pretty much all of them experienced the lights," said Jesse Hyde, the Whitewater Center's brand director.

The 2019-20 version of "Lights" featured glowing mushrooms and crystals, tendrils of lights snaking down trees and even an incandescent stream.

meredith connelly.JPG
Courtesy U.S. National Whitewater Center
Meredith Connelly works on an installation for "Lights" in 2019.

"For both years of lights, I was completely inspired by what I find on the trails here at the center," Connelly said. "So, I initially start my design by walking outside in nature. The path that I walk is the path that the viewers walk as well through the experience. I usually bring my sketchbook and just kind of pick images of things that inspire me."

Connelly and her team started building the installation on Aug. 21, and when WFAE caught up with her on Tuesday, she was five days into placing her art along the trail. More than 15 people helped bring Connelly's vision to life.

Connelly didn't want to give too many details away about specific additions this year. She did say viewers can look for some warmer colors this time around, and she teased new materials and a "fiber-optic experience."

"I think some of the magic is really experiencing it as if you've stumbled upon it in the woods," she said.

There's also just more to see this year. There are more than 400 individual pieces spanning 12 installations, and the trail's a bit longer.

Courtesy U.S. National Whitewater Center
This glowing mushroom was featured in "Lights" in late 2019 and early 2020 at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

"If you wanted to do a brisk walk, you can easily walk through it, without much pause, in about 20 minutes," Connelly said. "My hope is that the viewer is captivated enough to maybe stop and spend some time with each piece. So, it really depends on how each person perceives the work."

Plus, taking time over a half-mile helps space visitors out, too. The Whitewater Center is asking attendees to wear face masks and practice social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"There's ample room for people to spread out and be mindful of the distancing measures that are becoming more the norm," Hyde said. "In that way, we're pretty excited that 'Lights' is in some ways tailor-made to the conditions that exist right now."

Nature plays a big role not only in inspiring Connelly's work but in the presentation.
Things like fallen leaves can make a piece of lit-up art pop even more, and so could mist on a chilly evening.

"I think it's up to each person to have their own experience, and I think that's kind of the magic and power of putting public art out in a space," Connelly said. "But I do hope that they have some kind of connectivity, that they're inspired and also that they can see the connection between the art and also the way the light shines around and hopefully highlights the natural elements that are here.

"Ultimately, it's not just the work itself. It's how it interacts and engages with the natural space that's so captivating."

The "Lights" trail is open from 6-10 p.m. every day from Nov. 12 through February. It's free, though there's a parking $6 parking fee. There are more details at usnws.org.

lights river.JPG
Courtesy U.S. National Whitewater Center
"Lights," an illuminated art trail, seen here in 2019, will return to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.