METHUEN — A colorful display aimed at bringing arts, diversity and technology together this winter will light up downtown Methuen starting this weekend thanks to “Light the Falls,” a public art installation headed by Methuen Arts and Arts Institute of the Merrimack Valley.

A project four years in the making, “Light the Falls” projects a series of colorful lights onto the Spicket River waterfall adjacent to the Mill Falls Apartments on Osgood Street. When possible, the light show will be accompanied by music throughout the holiday season. Three free hour-long shows take place each weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 7 p.m. at 45 Osgood St., with parking available at 48 Osgood St.

Special extended showings take place after the Methuen tree lighting on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 5-8 p.m. and Dec. 12 from 5-8 p.m. when Mayor Neil Perry will be present.

As Matt Kraunelis of Methuen Arts explains, the project came together in many ways to be just the right fit for Methuen.

“We’ve had success with smaller displays, but this is by far the largest one we’ve been able to do,” Kraunelis said. “It’s right where we want it to be — so we can feature downtown, the waterfall and footbridge — and this all came together perfectly to bring artistic lighting to downtown Methuen.”

The waterfall, Essex County’s only natural waterfall — which once powered 19th-century textile mills — drops 100 feet and crashes over a bed of rocks before heading to the Merrimack River in Lawrence.

“We feel fortunate because a lot of cities and towns don’t have any sort of lighting project like this and certainly not the natural resource of the waterfall,” Kraunelis added. “That’s something we felt was an underutilized resource and we wanted to reinvigorate that area. This has done it based on the previous showings we’ve had. We’ve brought that area back to life.”

Several years ago, current Groveland Town Administrator Rebecca Oldham brought an art consultant to Methuen and walked around the city with Methuen Arts representatives. The consultant documented and discussed the feasibility of artists’ ideas for public art projects, one of which included illuminating the falls.

Methuen Arts received $25,000 in grant funding from the Essex County Community Foundation, or ECCF, to bring the idea to life. Other funding, according to Mimi Leger from Methuen Arts, came from corporate sponsors including Enterprise Bank, crowd-sourced donations from a Facebook campaign and other private donors.

Money was used to install computer-powered lights on the side of the falls that are electronically controlled. The arts group then turned to Methuen-based Olson Electric, to use a hydro-powered generator built into the falls to power the lights. The display was designed by lighting architectural firm Lam Partners using lights from Lumenpulse, Leger said.

Everything came together when Department of Public Works Director Patrick Bower, City Councilor Eunice Zeigler and Planning Director Kathleen Colewell lent a hand from City Hall and city employees connected the lights, Kraunelis said.

The goal is to start small with the showings over the holiday season, Leger said, and build up through next year as water flow allows.

Leger has already reached out to many school, community and church groups of all denominations to come to the falls for holiday music performances and other festive fun. Haverhill’s Temple Emanu-El will provide music during a Hanukkah-themed event, Leger said, with the Merrimack Valley Chorus performing when Mayor Perry appears during an extended light show on Dec. 12. Poetry readings from the Grey Court Poets are also in the works, she said.

Methuen Arts also hopes that other artists will use “Light the Falls” as a springboard for future art installations.

“We’re trying to bring the community together to show them this is a place to express their creativity. For example, on Methuen Day, we hope an artist can create a light display. We’re looking for artists who want to create a light show with this medium,” said Leger, who calls the work “light painting.”

For more on “Light the Falls,” including dates and times for the next shows — and any changes due to inclement weather — visit the Methuen Arts Facebook page.

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