Arts program illuminates downtown Franklin

When the sun goes down, the light of creativity comes on in downtown Franklin this summer.

People will gather on the streets to share ideas and to reconnect. Musicians and performers will provide the soundtrack for the night, playing in front of a three-story projection of positive and affirming words.

From a simple format, the Night Lights program can have a big impact.

“We hope it sparks conversation,” said Patrick Tisdale, board president of the Creative Council of Franklin. “We want there to be an excitement about artists, and more than that, it creates that space in people’s minds where they think about or talk about things they maybe wouldn’t normally think or talk about. Which, again, is the work of the artist.”

Night Lights, held every fourth Friday of the month through October, brings musicians, artists, performers and the community together backed by a themed light display.

When the Creative Council of Franklin came up with the idea, the hope was to provide a small spark of joy in an easygoing and accessible way. That remains true as the series goes into its second season.

“We see it as a kind of mental health reprieve for people, in a sense, and it’s an act in creative placemaking — creative people making a space for people to gather and have a positive experience,” Tisdale said.

On a cold and rainy May evening, a small crowd stood around a Franklin street corner, gazing at the side of the city hall building. Projected on the building was a simple video — a hand, signing in American Sign Language on a loop. Below the image were the words “Trust Artists.”

For the season’s inaugural Night Light artistic gathering, organizers from the Creative Council of Franklin wanted to emphasize diversity, equality and access in the Johnson County arts scene.

“We’re making an effort to think about all people, and be more inclusive and open,” Tisdale said.

The Creative Council of Franklin is a nonprofit organization that encourages creative people from all disciplines to educate the public about the value that art brings, to make art and to connect people to creative work.

Their events have ranged from community art shows to a make-in-a-day art competition to Porchtober, a fall festival featuring music, demonstrations and other activities held around the downtown area.

Night Lights was introduced in 2020, when large-scale events of people packed tightly together was impossible. Organizers with the Creative Council of Franklin were searching for a way to bring the arts to people safely.

“Last year, we had been gearing up to grow our organization with our standard events that we had been doing and putting on annually. But then the pandemic hit, and we were at a loss of what to do,” Tisdale said. “We were talking about what we could do to be helpful at all.”

The family-friendly events started as simply a positive message projected on the side of Franklin’s city hall building downtown. People could drive or walk by it, interacting from a distance but not gathering as a group.

Organizers put together positive phrases — centered around light, to fit the theme — and shine those on the three-story wall. Sayings such as “How far that little candle throws his beam!” and “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” were striking against the dark brick wall.

All they needed was an outlet, a projector and a little bit of creativity, Tisdale said.

“We started putting it on social media at first, or we could tell people they could drive by or walk by if they feel comfortable. It just grew from there,” he said.

The first Night Light event led to sporadic other displays, until it was decided to start doing one on Friday nights. The displays evolved to include a space for musicians and other performers to share their art and talents with the public. On occasion, a food truck or ice cream truck provided refreshments.

“It became the kind of thing that people did feel comfortable riding their bike to, or walking by or driving by. People kept telling us they looked forward to it being on social media, to see what the phrase was,” Tisdale said. “People said it was nice having something to look forward to at the end of the week.”

The success of Night Lights in 2020 led to the continuation of it this summer. Events are scheduled for the fourth Friday of each month, with May’s performance already completed.

While the initial season was themed around light, the Creative Council of Franklin is expanding their mindset to look more broadly in the sense of art and artistry, Tisdale said.

“We want to create thought, or nudge people in a positive direction,” he said.

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Night Lights

What: A family-friendly event is designed to create a space for artists, musicians, and other performers to share their art and talents with the public.

Who: Organized by the Creative Council of Franklin

When: Evenings on June 25, July 23, Aug. 27, Sept. 24 and Oct. 22.

Where: Downtown Franklin, at the corner of East Court and Monroe streets.