Chicago and the suburbs are filled with holiday lights experiences to drive through, walk through or just sit and look at. But a new lights show at Morton Arboretum lets visitors sing to trees to light them up, project lights across the lake with a touch of a screen, and hug a tree to make the light colors change. We took a walk around the lake and found the exhibit every bit as enchanting as the arboretum had promised.
Morton Arboretum’s new interactive light exhibit is a chance to take your family outside and experience the sensory delight of technology and nature.
Illumination, which runs Nov. 22-Jan. 4, is consideredmore than a lights show by Morton staff–it’s considered alights experience. Sue Wagner, vice president of education andinformation at Morton, had previously worked at Adler Planetariumand was used to creating immersive experiences. With the help ofexperiential lighting designers, Lightswitch, she worked to createan immersive environment among Morton’s trees.
“What we’re doing is enhancing the shape and structure of thetrees and making it so people can see trees in a new way,” Wagnersays. “This is another way to help people understand how importanttrees are to our world, which is our mission.”
Illumination runs through about a mile of the arboretum’s trees,with 10 engagement points and three resting spots offeringcampfires, s’mores and hot drinks.
“This is great for families with small kids. You can pack a nicefleece blanket and bring the kids in a stroller,” Wagner says.”It’s also a great intergenerational activity that kids could enjoywith their grandparents.”
Great for families
Illumination starts with projection technology, where visitorscan turn a group of 50-foot-tall evergreens along Meadow Lake intoa giant screen for moving images. Along the path, there are shadowlanterns creating shimmer patterns and the Tinsel Colonnade, wherebright strands of colorful light glimmer from the tree’s brancheslike tinsel.
Using projection technology
The Harmony Trees are black walnut trees with lights thatrespond to the sound of voices. Visitors are encouraged to sing andcall out to the trees to make them brighter. At Personalitrees,guests can move their hands over a sensor to conduct a 30-foot-highdisplay of falling snowflakes, flower petals and leaves. They alsocan look into a camera and see their own image in a giantprojection on the trees.
Touching and singing brings on the lights
Hug A Tree invites guests to hug three different trees. The hugshelp shift the lighting of the entire grove by making lightsbrighter, changing the color, or changing how quickly the lightshifts from tree to tree.
Hug that tree
- Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle
- Illumination opens each day at 4:30 p.m., with the last entryat 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 kids 2-17, free kids under2.
- Tickets can be purchased at the arboretum or in advance atmortonarb.org/illumination.
If you go