Behind the Making of Hamilton's Journey BOREALIS Immersive Drive-Thru Light Display at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

An immersive experience, Journey BOREALIS is divided into different zones that tell a story — through light, art and original music from Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Cincinnati Boychoir — as you move through the park.

click to enlarge PHOTO: VINCENT DIFRANCESCO
Photo: Vincent DiFrancesco

Hamilton’s Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park is lighting up the holiday season with a brand new drive-thru show: Journey BOREALIS.

For the last 20 years, Pyramid Hill has offered a drive-thru experience that is often ranked among the region’s best holiday light displays. But this year, Holiday Lights on the Hill has done a glow-up into Journey BOREALIS, an illuminated spectacle and “visual art experience that showcases local and regional new media and light-based artists,” says a release from Pyramid Hill.

Overseen by light design company Brave Berlin — part of Cincinnati’s BLINK art and light festival — for the past three years, Pyramid Hill’s light show has previously included 2-and-a-half miles of creative, glowing scenes and projection-mapped sculptural installations. This year’s multimedia drive-thru has expanded to include more than 1 million lights and immersive holiday art installations, soundtracked to music by the Cincinnati Boychoir and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

Some may remember that Journey BOREALIS was slated to open last year, but it was pushed back because “we realized that in order to forward the scope of the project we wanted to present, we needed more time for development,” says Gabi Roach, art and programming manager at Pyramid Hill. She says the extra year of concept development gave the show what it needed to be truly spectacular. 

An immersive experience, Journey BOREALIS is divided into different zones that tell a story — through light and music — as you move through the park. 

click to enlarge PHOTO: VINCENT DIFRANCESCO
Photo: Vincent DiFrancesco

Pyramid Hill partnered with Daniel Nail, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad, to create the show’s original soundtrack.

Brave Berlin helped bring the score to life — which was no small feat because COVID-19 meant the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Cincinnati Boychoir couldn’t meet in person to rehearse. 

“Our solution was to compose the six pieces of music via Zoom calls, in essence creating a virtual choir,” says Dan Reynolds of Brave Berlin. 

Brave Berlin also helped arrange for the specially created music to be streamed utilizing the free ECHOES app. The app uses geo-located audio that can be played through your car’s stereo, which will allow the music to change as you make your way through the show route. (Download it via Google Play or Apple before you go so you don’t miss any music.)

In addition to creating something unique with Journey BOREALIS, the folks at Pyramid Hill were also interested in forging stronger partnerships with local art organizations. 

“(We are) giving these organizations the chance to remain visible during a time when many arts organizations have had to slow or completely stop their programming efforts due to COVID-19,” Roach says.

As such, many hands and hard work have helped make this show possible. 

“The amount of community participation and involvement in Journey BOREALIS this year is inspiring,” says Sean FitzGibbons, executive director of Pyramid Hill. Not only does the show feature projections from Brave Berlin, it also includes installations from Pam Kravetz and the Bombshells of Cincinnati, Vincent Lighting Solutions and For Lula Girl yarn bomber. Even the Ross High School Art Club got involved, as did Journey BOREALIS Artist in Residence Sarah Rodriguez and her team of community volunteers.

“The yarn bombers are over-the-moon excited to get the band back together for Journey BOREALIS at Pyramid Hill,” says Kravetz, part of the Bombshells of Cincinnati and an artist in her own right. “We are knitting and crocheting a cluster of delightfully seasonally celebratory and colorful tree wraps to install along the show route.” 

This year, more than ever, the team at Pyramid Hill is excited to help raise morale during the holidays and offer a COVID-friendly way to get out of the house. 

“The entire Pyramid Hill team is proud to present Journey BOREALIS, an event that is focused on collaborative partnerships with regional arts organizations,” says FitzGibbons in a release. “Presenting a safe, drivable, holiday light experience that stands as a creative outlet for local artists is extremely important to the park.”


Journey BOREALIS takes place 6-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 6-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday through Jan. 3. $20 Monday-Thursday; $25 Friday-Sunday; $15 for Pyramid Hill members; free for Hamilton residents on Tuesdays (must bring proof of residence). 1763 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton, journeyborealis.com.


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