The Iluminación Lawrence project shines a light on the city and shows others its vibrant colors in a safe, upbeat setting. 

In addition, it complements other plans to attract development, businesses and visitors to Lawrence.

The city got a glimpse of its lighted future last week when Iluminación organizers briefly shined colored LED lights through the west face of the Ayer Mill tower clock and over Casey Bridge piers.

In the coming year, the program — a city, state and nonprofit partnership — will make colored lights available at those landmarks any time and in any hue.

Other sites to be lit include the public library and its mural panels created by youth at Lawrence's art and social justice group, Elevated Thought; and the Warehouse Square wall at Everett Mill, the surface to be a canvas for projected art.

The project's initial phases are dependent on a $60,000 matching grant program.

The project's roots go back to 2017, when the city and the Lawrence Redevelopment Authority agreed to light the Casey Bridge. About the same time the Essex County Community Foundation followed suit with plans to light the Ayer Mill clock tower, said Karen Ristuben of the Essex Foundation's Creative County Initiative.

Out of these two projects sprang Iluminación Lawrence, with plans to spread the light to places the city and its residents want lit. They could be pedestrian ways, landmarks or parks.

Lawrence Library's director, Jessica Vilas Novas, born and raised in the city, says the lighting project recognizes the role art and a sense of place play in reaching economic development goals.

It also sends a message.

"Lighting a space draws attention to it and says to the world, 'We are here,'" she said.

Jessica Martinez, of the state's economic finance office, has been working in Lawrence on the project since September — three days after the Columbia Gas explosions.

She says the project's goals are to make the public and visitors feel safer walking around the city and visiting downtown attractions.

These thoughts are also on residents' minds.

On Wednesday at a lighting preview ceremony hosted at Pemberton Park, Martinez and Ristuben asked visitors what places in the city they'd like to see lighted.

A Lawrence mom urged them to light up the Campagnone Commons, to make it safe for the public at night.

Abner Lora, 20, of Lawrence, a Babson College student, envisioned the Lawrence Falls Bridge at the dam lighted red and blue at night.

"I think that would be nice, driving by the bridge and seeing the dam all lit," he said.

He hopes Lawrence's future development is guided by good policy to protect the displacement of vulnerable residents.

It wasn't long ago that hundreds of homeless encamped under the Casey Bridge were removed by the city, many of the homeless and coping with addictions and mental illness and unable to afford the region's sky-high rents.

But Wednesday night was a festive time.

The Lawrence High School Blueline drummers entertained, breaking out color-lighted sticks for the clock tower and bridge lighting countdown.

Mayor Daniel Rivera, speaking to some 150 people gathered under the park's oaks and maples at Wednesday's festivities, asked the crowd if they remembered the last time the city's residents gathered in the park for a rally.

"The City of the Damned March, right," he said, referencing a Boston Magazine article that used that harsh title to describe Lawrence.

"You remember that, we came together in this really beautiful space and we hung out and were like, 'Hey, they are not going to define us,'" he said, adding that the lighting project is another way the city can define itself in a positive light.

The lighting project is in its beginning stages, says Ristuben.

"It's unfolding," she said. "This is the beginning of the unfolding."

Not only can an infinite number of colors be shined but an array of images can be displayed as well, tailored to city events, festivals and occasions, said Ristuben, whose organization is guiding the lighting project's progress through fundraising, outreach and events.

Cathy McLaurin, director of Lawrence's Essex Art Center, says the colorful lighting will give people who have been in Lawrence a long time a chance to renew their appreciation for local landmarks, and highlight them for newcomers.

"I think it's an exciting time for Lawrence," she said.

Ristuben sees the future's possibilities as broad as the spectrum of colors available to light the city.

"Any sort of blue," says Ristuben. "Any sort of green. Any color combination that matters to the city of Lawrence. An infinite range of colors."

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