The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival

Installation at “The Illuminated Waterfront” (photo by Montgomery Sheridan)

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A Quick History of Highlight & The Bright Idea Project

Highlight came into existence as Burlington, Vermont’s citywide New Year’s Eve festival after the 35-year legacy of First Night (the previous NYE festival) came to an end in 2018. Already working with Burlington City Arts on Festival of Fools and other projects, we happened to be in the office when word of First Night’s shut-down landed. 35 years is an incredible run, and while we were interested in understanding what made the event last that long, we were equally interested in how it could be improved. How could we bring new life to programming the performances, workshops, parties, and other activities that made the festival tick since 1983?

Research and development was needed to think creatively and develop something that would perform well, serve Vermont, and reflect the modern business, cultural, and artistic landscape. We generated an idea: put the festival directly into the hands of local creators. Artists, musicians, makers, chefs, community-leaders, designers, and all others with an inventive imagination would be called upon to build proposals for independent event ideas that, if selected, would be supported financially by the city and logistically by what we do best: production, planning, programming, marketing, and all the other things that make an event come to life. We teamed up with our amazing partners at BCA to make it happen.

The City stepped up in a big way to not only support the concept and relaunch of a new citywide festival, but to support the ideas, artistic projects, and creative work of individual community members. The strong support from the City and BCA is a reflection of the same spirited energy that lives all around our community that Highlight seeks to showcase.

Our hope was to source wildly creative ideas that authentically reflected the culture of Vermont from people who may or may not be experienced in building events. This model could present the opportunity for creators to design, build, and present their own unique visions and experiences. Each event would be a unique offering and the festival as a whole would be a greater reflection of Vermont and its people. The creative power would be in the hands of our community.

Get Involved

Are you an artist, creator, community-leader, or someone with an idea? If you want to be involved in producing an event for The Bright Idea Project in 2019, visit Highlight’s website to learn more about the proposal process and download the full instructions for submission. Proposals are being accepted from July 6 – August 12.


2018 Case Studies

In our first year, the proposals blew our expectations out of the water. There was a wealth of ideas — many more than we could support out of the gate. We received proposals from artists, non-profit organizations, local businesses, and other creative-minded entities. After some tough decisions, we pulled out an exciting group of ideas that spanned art installations, music performances, interactive experiences, fashion, light, fire, water, and more. Below you’ll find a short selection of case studies from the many wonderful ideas we received and events that took place.

The Illuminated Waterfront

This proposal came in from an incredible group of artists, the Illumination Collective, who were unofficially led by Jane Adams and based mostly at Burlington incubator/maker-space, Generator. Through the bitter cold of Vermont winters, people gather in the warmth of community. In contrast to the freezing darkness, light becomes more special. The artist group brought video projection mapping, ambient lighting, and other lighting techniques and illusions in a beautiful, safe, and family friendly interactive experience at Waterfront Park and inside ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake ChamplainTo complement the work of the Illumination Collective, we connected the event to ambient guitarist and self-proclaimed mystic Tom Pearo, along with keyboardist and composer Parker Shper, who would create uniquely beautiful, strange, and often magical sounds. Crowds young and old bathed in light and music as the New Year drew closer on the waterfront.

Exhibiting artists comprising the Illumination Collective included Jane Adams, Jake Blend, Kristian Brevik, Jody Brown, Alexander Costantino, Leisa Fearing, Ken Howell, Clay Mohr, George Philbrick, Terry Sehr, and Alex Toulan (with many thanks to John Boquet, project manager, and Richard Stock, graphic designer).

The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival

Photos by Montgomery Sheridan, Stephen Mease, Kyle Tansley (x2), Jane Adams, Stephen Mease (x3) [IOOA]

Hour 99

99 Neighbors are blowing up as Vermont’s largest hip-hop export, hitting major festivals across the country. Alibi Hour is an events organization / pop-up art gallery dedicated to providing an outlet for young artists to show and develop their work. The two groups teamed up to bring a fresh energy to the heart of City Hall at Contois Auditorium. Cal Rawlings, artist manager of 99 Neighbors, and Trella Lopez, arts and events organizer of Alibi Hour, designed and developed an art, music, and fashion show with over 20 contributing artists that brought a spirited vibe not usually seen inside the City Hall complex and exposed a wider Vermont audience to a thriving slice of creative culture.

Contributing artists included: Travis Alford, Lillian Ansell, Forrest Brandt, Peter Crummey, Good Dog Design, Abbie Foley, Serena Gauthier, Will Gebhard, Aiden Healy, Olivia Hoh, Sara Jaye, Ben Johnson, Maddie Laflamme, Trella Lopez, Keira Meiser, Speak Money, Jacob Rist, Nieva Schemm, Ava Schwemler, Rachael Surrell, Phin Totten, and Jackson Tupper.

The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival

Trella Lopez of Alibi Hour & Cal Rawlings of 99 Neighbors (photo by Montgomery Sheridan)

Cirque De Fuego

An important goal of Highlight is to spread the festival outside of Burlington’s downtown corridor and into the rest of the city’s various pockets of exciting culture and community. We had events in the Old North End, the South End, and elsewhere, but one “Highlight” (heh) was the Waterfront District. Thanks to an idea and support from our friends at Phish’s Waterwheel Foundation, we were able to bring energy to the lakeside and ECHO, an important steward of the lake. The perfect kindling for that energy was fire-dancing troupe Cirque De Fuego. With bonfires, fireworks, and the Illuminated Waterfront surrounding, Cirque De Fuego set the night ablaze as crowds gathered for warmth and jaw-dropping fire stunts. Nearby, Skinny Pancake & Foam Brewers held their own unique Highlight events while Great Northern served delicious food that added that last little bit of warmth right into our bellies.

The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival
The Bright Idea Project: Crowdsourcing Burlington’s New Year’s Eve Festival

Photos by Montgomery Sheridan, Kyle Tansley, Stephen Mease (x2) [IOOA]

Our New Partners at VSECU

In 2019, we sought a partner organization to support the project and to work with us to develop it beyond what we could do on our own. We’re happy to say that we’ve found the perfect partner in VSECU. VSECU is a member-owned cooperative and not for profit credit union for everybody who lives or works in Vermont, offering a full range of affordable financial products and services to its member-owners. VSECU is committed to improving the lives of Vermonters by empowering the possibilities for greater social, environmental, and financial prosperity. We stumbled onto the “Powered by VSECU” program and upon learning about some of the amazing partnerships they’d developed with forward thinking programs like “Milk Money,” “Share Yourself,” and “Fuel Your Neighbors,” we recognized a great parallel to our own mission. Many thanks to VSECU for their generous support and belief in Highlight & The Bright Idea Project.