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Leap Year Lights Festival

Fitchburg, Massachusetts

On February 29, 2020, during the coldest night of the year, community leaders in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, constructed light sculptures that lit up Riverfront Park for the Leap Year Lights Festival. Approximately 300 people came to observe the light sculptures and participate in the activities.

Riverfront Park is located on the Nashua River in downtown Fitchburg. Throughout the 1900s, paper manufacturers dumped dyes and other industrial byproducts into the river, and the river was named one of the 10 most polluted in the nation in 1960.[1] Residents fought for new and improved water treatment plants and today the river is a designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Riverfront Park holds significant historical value as well, as the center of civic struggles that took place in the 1960s.

Environmental cleanup isn’t the only way Fitchburg is working to improve their community. NewVue Communities is a regional nonprofit dedicated to resident leadership, and it hosts a Leadership Cohort each year through its community organizing department. In 2019, several of NewVue’s Leadership Cohort members were working as Art Stewards, and they came up with the idea for the Leap Year Lights Festival.

The Art Stewarts wanted to pay homage to and celebrate the history of Riverfront Park and the river through light sculpture. Artists were given materials — including lights, wood, zip ties, batteries, paint, chicken wire, and tools — and had 72 hours to create a light sculpture. They could also use their own materials and tools to add to their installations. Artists were encouraged to create sculptures that centered around Fitchburg and its history. On February 29 the sculptures were installed and displayed in vibrant lights. The event featured a heated tent with a live band, a food truck, and warming stations.

The Leap Year Lights Festival is part of NewVue Communities’ larger effort to reactivate Riverfront Park with the help of community members. Organizers work to make it clear there is a lot to do in Fitchburg and the local community has a lot to offer. This event is one part of that larger effort.


Property Type: Open Space
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Large Scale (e.g. Sculpture; mural), Event(s)
Project Purpose: Community engagement, activate riverfront
Duration: Once / Single Day


Initial Cost: Unknown
Funding Source: Philanthropy; In kind services


Organization Type: Nonprofit - Other
Implementation Partners:
Local business; Artist(s); Local government
City: Fitchburg
State: Massachusetts
Community Type: Urban


Organization Website: NewVue Communities >
Social: Facebook >
Press: Lights festival aiming to illuminate Fitchburg’s Riverfront Park >


Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza and Francisco Ramos

Last updated: October 2021 – Do you have additional information about this project? Please use the share your placemaking project form > to share that information.

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