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My District: Is Home to the Portland Winter Light Festival

By Joe Rassenfoss  |  January 30, 2023

Daylight’s at a premium during February in Portland. By that time of year, the days are growing longer, but the northern location of the City of Roses means it receives just 10½ hours of sunshine per day during the month. By comparison, Los Angeles has almost an hour more of daylight in February.

How to brighten those long nights?

Rep. Maxine DexterEnter the Portland Winter Light Festival, which this year runs from Feb. 3-11, marking eight years of lighting up the city’s nights. The festival, whose 2023 theme is “The Light of Stars,” will feature more than 100 works of light-based art displayed in public spaces around the city.

Organizers don’t claim the idea is new: Festivals of light are held in the U.S. and worldwide in locations ranging from San Antonio, Texas, to India to Spain. But this decentralized Oregon event spans two weekends and adds more to the light displays, also staging public art installations, performances and workshops. And it’s all free.

It’s been a successful formula. In 2022, more than 189,000 visitors took part in the festival, generating an estimated economic impact of $3.7 million.

We recently caught up with Rep. Maxine Dexter (D), whose northwest Portland district includes part of the downtown neighborhood where much of the festival takes place, to get her take on this popular event.

You were born in Washington state, but it looks like a career in medicine brought you to Portland. Can you tell us more about that?

I was born and raised in Washington and earned my undergraduate, as well as medical degrees, from the University of Washington. My husband and I then completed our medical training in Denver, moved back to the Northwest in 2008 to be closer to our families, and settled in Portland.

Map Portland, Ore.The Portland Winter Light Festival has become an extremely successful tradition. Can you talk about your experiences at the event over the years?

The is an amazing community event. The opportunity to discover the delightful artistic light displays throughout the downtown core with neighbors is incredible. The festival was one of the few events that
persevered through the COVID shutdowns and was a joyous celebration where people could be together
and support our city. It is an accessible event that anyone, children to the elderly, can enjoy. And Portland shows up each night, no matter what the weather may bring.

According to organizers, nearly 200,000 people attended the festival last year and delivered an estimated economic impact of $3.7 million to the city. Those numbers are impressive, but can you speak about what it means in terms of bringing the community together?

What excites me about the Winter Light Festival is the way it fills the downtown core with families and
friends from around the state who come together (to) discover the creative light displays while also enjoying what is always there in our wonderful city: the restaurants, small businesses, galleries and large department stores. This isn’t just a Portland event, but something that attracts people to our downtown core and delights strangers and friends alike.

This sounds like an event that can be easily combined with food or other fun in the city. Where should a visitor go after experiencing the festival?

Luc Lac is a favorite for our family—a fun Vietnamese restaurant with fantastic pho soup and bahn mi sandwiches. The cold and often wet winter nights are fabulous for enjoying a cozy bowl of ramen, and Ramen Ryoma is a great choice. (Beyond food), attending the Oregon Symphony or a lecture at Arlene Schnitzer Hall before or after experiencing the festival makes for an especially memorable night. My family goes to the amazing Powell’s bookstore nearly every time we are downtown. Another wonderful outing is going to the Portland Japanese Garden and then walking down the hill through Washington Park to go to a Thorns or Timbers soccer game. Finally, one of my favorite places to walk, shop and eat is along Northwest 23rd Avenue with its fantastic, locally-owned businesses and restaurants.

Northwest Portland is also represented by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D).

Joe Rassenfoss is a Denver-based freelance writer.

“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events and destinations to the fun facts only the locals know.

The responses have been edited for length and clarity.


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