Aurora transformed the Wyly Theatre into a giant light sculpture in 2013. Photo courtesy of TDMN.

For One Night, Aurora Turns the Dallas Arts District Into a Downtown Dream

How the Arts District becomes a vibrant, throbbing city center we can really brag about.

Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau marketing materials like to brag about how we have the largest Arts District in the nation. What they leave out is that the size of the Arts District works against it. Most of the time, the Arts District sits empty, save for audiences coming and going before or after performances. Food trucks have helped draw in a lunchtime crowd, and new residential and commercial developments—both realized and in the works—promise to bring in more critical mass. But it will remain challenging for the Arts District to function as a neighborhood and creative hub.

Well, except for one night of every other year.

In 2011, artist Shane Pennington presented to then-Arts District executive director Veletta Forsythe Lill the idea that Dallas have its own European-style White Night. In places like Paris and Rome, White Nights transform entire cities into massive, all-night, outdoor parties. Dallas was a little too large and geographically unwieldy to copy the idea wholesale, so Pennington proposed launching a White Night in the Arts District. After all, the Arts District was big enough to feel like a small city unto itself.

That is how Aurora was born, and it returns to the Arts District after a year hiatus. Describing itself as a way to transform downtown Dallas into an “open-air urban playground of new media art,” it is also the best idea ever hatched for the Arts District. Artists flood Flora Street and other city blocks with illuminated displays, projected images, and glimmering and glittering art objects of various sorts, turning the Arts District into an outdoor museum and engaging communal space. This year, organizers—including Pennington and co-founder Joshua King—have also invited guest curators from New York, Berlin, and Dallas to increase the diversity of artists included in the event.

Because Aurora is a massive undertaking, organizers have stuck with a biennial model. (A sneak peek of Aurora, called Glimpse, happened in 2012.) But even on that schedule, Aurora remains a vision of what the Arts District could be, a vibrant, throbbing city center we can really brag about.

A version of this article appears in the October issue of D Magazine.