METHUEN — The Spicket River falls, which cascade 100 feet into a narrow, rocky gorge in the middle of downtown, will soon become a canvas of sorts for local artists.
"Light the Falls," as it is dubbed by its backers, will bring a multitude of multi-colored lights, and music, to the falls as they thunder into the riverbed below. The display is expected to be turned on sometime this fall, and again early next year, when the water is running at its peak flow.
The art installation is being made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Essex County Community Foundation, or ECCF, to the local nonprofit Arts Institute Group of the Merrimack Valley/Methuen Arts.
“We are thrilled to receive this generous grant,” said Mimi Leger, the lead project manager for AIGMV/Methuen Arts. “A main goal of our group is to activate underutilized spaces in Methuen and fill them with vivid art that the entire community can enjoy. This grant will allow us to do just that at the Spicket River Falls.”
Local artists will use the money to install computer-powered lights on the side of the falls attached to electronic controls. Once programmed by a local artist, the lights will be able to create an infinite number of different light shows, set to music, according to Leger.
Leger and Methuen Arts member Matt Kraunelis explained that a hydro-powered generator built into the falls and owned by Olson Electric will be used to power the lights. Olson Electric, one of the partners in the project, is located in a restored mill building near the falls. The display is being designed by lighting architectural firm Lam Partners.
Because the falls only run during rainy times of the year, the light show won't actually be viewable until sometime in the fall, probably October, Leger said. That's when the group will have a soft opening, "which will give us a chance to test it out," she said.
A larger show, set to music and possibly coinciding with some kind of city event, will be held in the early spring of 2022, she said.
She said the display is "run by computers," adding that it's "like a paintbrush with light. Artists will be able to paint the waterfall. ... It allows us to patch in music, so we have sound in collaboration with the light show."
"Merrimack Valley photographers, writers and people seeking calm have probably found themselves at some point on the edge of the Spicket River in Methuen, where Essex County’s only natural waterfall – which once powered 19th-century textile mills – drops 100 feet and tumbles over a bed of rocks on its way to the Merrimack in Lawrence," said the ECCF in Monday's announcement of the Methuen grant along with a number of others in different parts of the county.
“There is a great deal of beauty in the city of Methuen," said Mayor Neil Perry. “It is uplifting that these talented and artistic individuals are undertaking projects to emphasize the natural architecture that the city provides.”
ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis said the organization is "incredibly thrilled to fund these projects, which merge creativity, collaboration and ingenuity into something that can unite the entire community."
Kraunelis said Methuen Arts has done a number of projects around the city, such as "It's raining poetry" near the old train depot, but that "this is the largest project we've worked on. This is a big game-changer."
He said the project has the support not only of the mayor but also the City Council, in particular Councilor Eunice Zeigler, who is involved with Methuen Arts.
"We hope it becomes a destination," Kraunelis said of the light show on the waterfall. "That's the whole idea of creative place-making."
Leger said Methuen Arts is in search of local artists to take part in the project as well as donors who may want to sponsor some more lighting to create an even more spectacular display.
"We could get more lights which would make it more impactful," she said, adding the group has also gotten approval to put a camera up but needs a sponsor to help purchase it.
“Join us as we embark on engaging our culturally rich and diverse community in showcasing local artists," she said.
People can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the AIGMV and Methuen Arts Facebook pages.