The Illuminate Art Walk in downtown Raleigh began during a tough period, the isolation year in 2020. It gave the Raleigh community a spark of joy in a time when festive cocktails, acorn drops, and parties with loved ones disappeared.
The Downtown Raleigh Alliance Commission launched the Illuminate Art walk initiative to brighten up our spirits. They commissioned over a dozen local artists to jazz up the plazas and storefronts of the downtown area, including vacant stores and restaurants with 19 art installations.
It was so well received that it’s now become a regular annual Holiday event in Raleigh, and its become one of our family’s annual Christmas traditions.
You’ll love how these large-scale, interactive and light-based art pieces brighten up downtown Raleigh.
This year, Illuminate will have 16 art installations starting December 2nd until January 6, 2023. They can mostly be found on Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South Districts.
You’ll also find storefronts join in with the festive spirit with their own decorations and artwork. So while walking around pay attention to those which may not be on the official Illuminate Art Walk map.
Illuminate Art Walk is a great Holiday experience to do with kids. You don’t have to worry about them being quiet, they can even run around (be careful of cars), and they will really enjoy the interactive nature of many of the installations.
Our girls loved dancing with some of them, playing music on the plexiglass tubes, and taking fun photos.
We started right on nightfall to appreciate the lights in the dark. Allow about an hour and a half to see them all. It’s all completely self-guided and can be done whenever you like! And of course, it’s FREE!
Be sure to read our post on things to do in Raleigh for Christmas as you may be able to combine this Holiday attraction with another, like The Dessertery, The Rink, holiday shopping downtown, or Magic of Lights or the WRAL Night of Lights.
DON’T MISS our 12 Days of Christmas Celebrations happening right now. The Illuminate Art Walk was Day 2 – one of our holiday traditions. Day 1 was a $250 gift card to our favorite local store, The Flourish Market (with a special gift for all first time shoppers). Tomorrow, Day 3, will be a delicious treat for 4.
Illuminate Art Walk 2022
Thousands attend this Holiday event each year. We recommend visiting during the week when the crowds will be less. We attended a special media preview and appreciated having many of the art installations to ourselves. The city was very quiet on a Thursday night.
Otherwise, I’d recommend getting there right on dusk to try and beat the crowds on the weekend. We’ll share a few of the highlights below (we still have not experienced the Glenwood Ave ones). You can see the full experience in our video.
Sonic Runway (salisbury St)
Each year, the Art Walk has a featured installation. This year the highlight is the Sonic Runway created by Rob Jensen and Warren Trezevant from Creos.
This light-art installation converts audio signals into patterns of light that shoot down a 350ft tunnel of 20 to 25 LED lined arches at the speed of sound.
It’s fun to run, walk, skip down the tunnel and experiencing the waves of light rippling towards you to the beat of fun music.
Sonarc (Duke Energy Center)
This featured installation from 2020 is now an annual much-loved feature of Illuminate. and now a permanent feature of Duke Energy Center.
SONARC by Brian Brush is made of 1,000 plexiglass tubes and 600 LED lights hung in a semicircle frame meant to represent open arms welcoming guests to the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
The highlight of Sonarc is singing into the microphone (hidden in the plexiglass on the corner near the electrical box. Look up!), which causes Sonarc to emit patterns and different colors of light based on the pitch.
Tinsel: A Walk Through Ornament (Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts)
Introduced in 2021, this sparkly adornment by Mosca Design outside of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts returns. We love walking through this 16 ft tall Christmas tree ornament made up of 2,460 lights. You will also find one of these in Downtown Cary.
Christmas Tree at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Illuminate Art Walk is the perfect time to capture your family photo in front of the beautifully lit Christmas tree with the arts center lit up in Christmas colors.
And, if you’re like our family, this might be the moment that you sternly talk to your arguing children to sit down, smile for the camera and pretend to love each other!
the Glow Zone (Haymaker Bar)
The Glow Zone by Brite Creation is a vibrant colorful display with varying shapes the kids will love. Savannah loved doing her cartwheels and backflips in front of here.
For the adults, it’s also located in front of the Haymaker Bar, which during the Holidays, transforms into the Miracle Christmas pop up. We recommend crossing that off your Raleigh Christmas bucket list and stopping to get your photos at the Glow Zone in your ugly sweaters after a couple of their very strong seasonal cocktails.
Spires of Light (city Plaza)
Again by Brite Creations is Spires of Light, a new installation for this year right in City Plaza. They add quite a golden glow to City Plaza and will be a good opportunity for portrait photos of your kids.
Twinkle Twinkle (YMCA Building)
I loved how pretty the YMCA building is decorated with dripping fairy lights that change colors and columns of red lights above it. Again, don’t forget to look in the window for the Santa display.
And walk around the corner of the YMCA building for another illuminated art display the Lite Brite which is rectangular panel of multicolored circular lights. This is where your child may wish to do the YMCA dance in front of them.
Snails (Fayetteville St Courtyard)
Last year this small courtyard running between Fayetteville St and Wilmington St was filled with mushrooms along the winding path. This year it’s snails.
Artist Meredith Conelly has created 150 glowing Snails in the garden beds here. The geometric spiral of a snail’s body is often used in art to mirror the path of the soul’s evolution, the rhythm of life, birth, the origin of all things, and beyond.
Here Meredith hopes the snail’s spirals will connect viewers to the past and present through the power of public art.
Smile for Flowers (Wells Fargo Building Plaza)
Plonk yourself down on the swinging chairs here for a bit while you gaze up at the illuminated flower reminding us all that nature is both as beautiful on the inside as it is in the outside. Smile for Flowers is by artist Erik Beerbower.
As mentioned, we have not yet seen the illuminated art displays on Glenwood Ave. We will update this as soon as we do!
Watch our video of Illuminate Art Walk:
Permanent Illuminated ARt Displays in Raleigh
Some of the art installations included on the trail in 2020 are now permanent illuminated art displays in Raleigh. So we get the art walk fun year round!
Translated from Latin, Esse Quam Videri means “To be rather than to seem”. This neon sign displays North Carolina’s state motto. You’ll find this art work by Glas in the storefront of Black Friday Market (23 W Hargett St).
Three Necessities: Bright Thoughts that Lead Us by Nate Sheaffer are in the window of CAM art gallery (409 W Martin St) in the Warehouse District. I love how it spreads the message of positivity, hope and kindness.
One not to miss on the side wall of Father and Sons (302 S West St) is the blinking neon sign intermittently spelling out the message of LOVE, RULES, LOVE, OVER, RULES. It’s very clever. LOVERULES by Hank Willis Thomas
Be sure to follow us on Instagram as we find these amazing events happening in the city and share them immediately.
Download the walking tour map here. There are sidewalk markers at each installation and a poster sharing information about each installation and the contributing artist.
Where to park in Downtown Raleigh
Street parking is free on weekends and after 6pm weekdays! We usually always find a park. As Raleigh is so walkable you can park a few streets away if need be.
Otherwise there are several parking decks in downtown that are quite affordable. We normally park at the Performing Arts Parking deck near the Duke Energy Center, or the parking deck across from Marbles Kids Museum on Blount St.
Check out these lists of places to eat and drink in Downtown Raleigh below to incorporate into your Illuminate Art Walk
- Downtown coffee shops
- 22 of our favorite downtown Raleigh restaurants
- Local’s Guide to Downtown Raleigh
- 7 of the best Downtown Raleigh hotels
Need Accommodation in Raleigh?
Scroll through the list view below. We love the Residence Inn right near the Duke Energy Center.
Comment: Are you going to experience Illuminate Art Walk? What’s your favorite one? Any family Holiday traditions you want to share?