In the media

Request and Concept


In 2020, the Covid-19 virus swept over us. In the new situation, life was a lot quieter than before. Entrepreneurs faced one of the most difficult periods ever. Theatres, museums and cinemas closed down; shops and the hospitality industry closed down. At home, behind our individual front doors, we had few to no visitors at all. And so we moved towards winter, towards the festive season.

The city of Rotterdam saw how bad things were for the hospitality and retail sectors in particular and wanted to do something to support them. That is why, in the autumn of 2020, they asked Mothership to draw up a plan to get people through the coming long cold winter. It was very short notice, but we pulled out all the stops!


Mothership set up Rotterdam Verlicht! as an ambitious, multi-annual project that needed room to grow and intensify. The idea was to initiate an annually recurring enriching event for the city, its entrepreneurs and its residents rather than a short-lived festival focused on tourism. In its first year, it was to encourage hospitality and retail entrepreneurs and make life easier for residents; it was to be a hopeful event that would acquire international stature over time.





All Rotterdam districts have squares: from metropolitan-sized ones to intimate ones. This is where local residents, visitors and entrepreneurs meet. Some squares truly function as neighbourhood living rooms. Especially at a time of such a great need for (Covid-19 safe, socially distanced) contact, they were important places. Which is why we turned Rotterdam’s squares into very special places where the dark winter could become really festive.

The dot on the horizon, the big plan, was to use light – works of light art, performances, projections and other programmes – to honour as many of these squares as possible. The event was supposed to develop organically: more and more squares would have light art and programmes as well as more visitors every year. An event like a trade-up diamond that, like the Amsterdam Light Festival and Eindhoven GLOW, would start small but sparkle as it grew into a major event.

We wanted to challenge local residents and organizations to participate actively, the way people participate in carnival floats and fruit and flower parades in other parts of the Netherlands. Every year, the square that was illuminated in the best way would win an award that would be presented by someone of note.

The idea was that squares would challenge each other and that Rotterdam Verlicht! would become a very special festival indeed, with more, more surprising and more spectacular lighting and programmes every year. And that would not only be great for Rotterdam locals, but also for the tourists who visit our city in ever-increasing numbers.

And because the participating squares were located all over the city, from Nieuw-Terbregge to Hoek van Holland and from Hillegersberg to IJsselmonde, local residents and visitors would be able to tour the entire city by bicycle or public transport.



Smaller Turned out Great


But Covid-19 ruled and we had to start small, without a programme and without installations that would continue to captivate people year after year. So we chose to work with a limited number of locations and only lighting and we proved that this can be enough.


Our starting point was light: light in the dark winter months, light as a symbol of hope.

Rotterdam Verlicht! is a call to light the city and thereby lighten our moods. Light as a medium has many advantages: there is standard existing lighting almost everywhere, for example. This can be remodelled, used or adapted. In the winter it gets dark early and the sun rises late. It’s the perfect season for a special story about Rotterdam, with a fairy-tale atmosphere.

In each case, our starting point was the identity of the square – its surroundings, the history of its location, the entrepreneurs based there and the people living there – that we had selected to participate in that particular edition. In this first year, the existing lighting was the basis. We selected 12 locations across the city – not just squares, but also landmark locations in shopping centres or streets and important buildings. And after those 12, seven more wanted to join in!





The most complex aspect of Rotterdam Verlicht! was the lack of possibilities: there was no programme, because people were not allowed to come together. This slimmed-down form – without performances, workshops or activities – only left the beauty of watching. We made use of this.

Communication about the project was particularly difficult: How do you announce something beautiful without inviting people? Initially, we wanted to present Rotterdam Verlicht! as a festival or event, but as it turned out we had to find a way to communicate what was on show without inviting people. That’s why we made the stories of the light art locations so strong that it was worthwhile for people just to go and see them, either alone, with their families or with their friends. We gave them bright spots in dark times.



Collaboration on Location


At various locations, Mothership worked together with local entrepreneurs and district managers. Various creative entrepreneurs also participated in this special winter. At our request the label HiphopInJeSmoel invited several street artists to make digital murals: HIJS Lights. Collective for video installations Het Blauwe Uur created a breath-taking mapping on an office building. Writer Ernest van der Kwast recorded an impressive series of podcasts on the participating locations. WOAU designed a beautiful logo and a ditto house style. Famous and fameless Rotterdam locals sent in short lines of poetry that, projected at various locations, inspired others.


Together with our partners in crime, we proved that art can bring connection and lighten the mood.