Oakland Cemetery’s Illumine returns with a celebration of trees

The event runs April 27 through May 7

769
Oakland Cemetery’s Illumine returns with a celebration of trees

Photograph courtesy of Oakland Cemetery

For Illumine, Historic Oakland Cemetery becomes a canvas. Lights illuminate the storied graves, strategically placed lighted sculptures draw the eyes up, and videos project on to mausoleums and the bell tower. “We want people to be able to walk around safely at night, but then we also want to create beautiful eye candy for people to look at everywhere,” says Cooper Sanchez, the cemetery’s creative director.

Illumine, which begins April 27 and runs on select dates through May 7, is a markedly different event than the cemetery’s ever popular Halloween tours. While those move at a brisk pace and accommodate large groups of people, Illumine sets an intimate, laidback vibe. “This is completely different in the fact that we don’t have to have actors. We don’t have to have a time constraint. It doesn’t really matter,” says Sanchez.

This year’s theme is “Trees,” which simply celebrates the beauty of Oakland’s flora. “I’ve planted hundreds of trees in Oakland and some of those I’ve seen grow to 40 feet tall now or more,” says Sanchez, who began working with the cemetery about 15 years ago, right before a tornado hit and destroyed nearly 100 mature trees at the cemetery. “I actually learned to be a gardener at Oakland, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the place just blossom.”

One of the five artists participating in the event is Dorothy O’Connor, an Atlanta native who grew up visiting the cemetery. For Illumine, she sculpted wooden phoenixes out of veneer which will glow from the inside. O’Connor was inspired by a few sources—ranging from the Ukrainian war to Stop Cop City—when she first sculpted the birds, which, to her, represent transformation. “I live in Southwest Atlanta and I’ve seen the landscape over here change so quickly over the last three to five years,” says O’Connor. “I’m a big nature person, so I think it’s just trying to process all the change and development and growth and all the things that I find endearing and just disappearing.”

Oakland Cemetery’s Illumine returns with a celebration of trees

Photograph courtesy of Oakland Cemetery

When completed, the glowing birds will hang from the trees in Oakland. O’Connor hopes the image of these intricate sculptures is striking whether people see them during the day or at night. “There’s five of them and they’re going to be all clustered in this one particular area, so, I hope it’s dramatic and beautiful,” she adds.

Other artists include Gavin Bernard, who is producing a large-scale sculpture of one of Oakland’s trees; Brooks Garcia, who previously worked as a gardener at Oakland, and photographer Ricardo Martinez.

Visually spectacular lighting events have become quite popular in Atlanta, but Sanchez finds the “analog nature” of Illumine to be one of its most charming features. “I like the fact that we are keeping it charming and simple,” says Sanchez. “Lights can be super high-tech or they can be lo-fi. I like what we’re doing and I hope you will, too.”

Illumine runs April 27 though May 7 at Oakland Cemetery, 248 Oakland Avenue Southwest, Grant Park. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased here.

Advertisement