ITHACA, N.Y. — Downtown Ithaca is debuting a new festival and art installation that will light up the Commons. This weekend is also packed with events, including the annual Chowder Cook-off, Santa’s rappel onto the Ithaca Commons, a silent disco and more.

The Winter Light Festival officially kicks off Thursday, Dec. 5 and lasts until Dec. 15. The festival will feature a light installation called Prismatica by Raw Design, which was put in place on Tuesday. It includes 25 colorfully lit prisms that act as kaleidoscopes and are interactive.

“Prismatica is a visual spectacle unlike anything we’ve ever seen here before. As visitors walk the Commons they can get close to the prisms and spin them. While the prisms spin, their light reflection will change. They will shine at night because of the illuminating effect, and during the day they’ll reflect a soft glow. It truly is an amazing exhibit that everyone can enjoy,” Scott Rougeau, special events director for the DIA, said in a news release.

Prismatica was first unveiled in 2014 for the Luminothérapie Competition in Montreal. According to the installation’s website, the prisms “glimmer under natural light by day and provide atmospheric lighting by night.”

(Photo courtesy of Downtown Ithaca Alliance)

The Winter Light Festival replaces the Ice Festival, which was well-loved but had a lot of variables like weather and vandalism that the Downtown Ithaca Alliance could not control. Bringing in all of the ice was expensive, and some years would melt away in as little as a day, said Rougeau. In contrast, the light installation will stay up until Dec. 15 — and there’s no chance of it melting away.

“We absolutely loved it, but it was really a short-lived event,” Rougeau said.

Though there won’t be an ice bar this year, there will be a “Glow Bar,” serving Lucky Hare Brewing craft beers, wines from Treleaven Wines and hot cocoa.

Aside from the art installation, there are tons of activities this weekend in Downtown Ithaca. Here’s a quick overview of the events:

‘Prismatica’ featured during the Winter Light Festival in Downtown Ithaca. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
‘Prismatica’ featured during the Winter Light Festival in Downtown Ithaca. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Gallery Night — Downtown Ithaca’s monthly art walking tour takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6. It will showcase works from local and regional artists at galleries, shops and businesses in Ithaca. Learn more about what will be included here.

Chowder Cook-off — This is the cook-off’s 10th year in Downtown Ithaca. Wander the Commons and nearby streets and enjoy chowders prepared by local chefs. At the end, vote for your favorite. The cook-off goes from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 on the Ithaca Commons. Tickets can be purchased at the event or in advance in packets of 10 for $10. Learn more here.

Santa’s Rappelling into Town — The Fall Creek Brass Band, The Next Jennaration and CSMA youth carolers will warm up crowds Sunday, Dec. 8 as they await Santa’s arrival on the Commons. The event begins at 11 a.m. As is tradition, Santa and his elves will rappel from the top of Center Ithaca to Ithaca Commons below. Sparky the luminous, giant rideable unicorn art bicycle will also be available for a photo op. The unicorn was built in Spring 2019 by local artists Doug Shire and Laurence Clarkberg. Learn about Santa’s arrival to Downtown Ithaca here.

Silent Disco — Even if you’re not up for dancing, this event is sure to be a fun sight. People can dance from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 to music from DJ Tori Vee, Dutchess and DJ ha-MEEN while wearing wireless, glowing, noise-canceling headphones. Don’t forget to bring ID to reserve headphones.

Lightsaber Invitational — Hone your lightsaber skills from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, as the Ithaca Sabers will offer LED lightsaber combat training demonstrations that will culminate with an invitational tournament featuring the best martial artists in the region.

Let’s Glow Ithaca — People are encouraged to wear their brightest and most colorful outfits for Let’s Glow Ithaca, a party featuring a community light parade led by Sparky the Unicorn through the Ithaca Commons. The event goes from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

The Winter Light Festival is presented by Tompkins Trust Company and organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance with support from the Tompkins County Tourism Program, Maguire and Hilton Garden Inn.

For more information about any of these events, visit or the Facebook event page.

Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.