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New London - To cheers, gasps and an exclamation of "that looks awesome," the city on Wednesday night unveiled the New London Light Cube, a public art installation that radiates rainbow-colored lights over Parade Plaza.
The light cube is made up of a series of multicolored LED lights around the glass facade on the south side of the parking garage, facing Parade Plaza. The lights outline the structure and stretch several stories into the air.
The illuminating ceremony also served as a grand finale of the Spring Food Stroll, an annual event organized by New London Main Street to promote downtown restaurants and shops.
"Tonight's food stroll and tonight's unveiling of this great artistic work showcase the cultural and artistic diversity and brilliance that is New London," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said. "We are a city founded in the arts, and we are a city that embraces the arts."
The light cube, now the largest public art installation in the city, is the final addition to the $1.3 million Water Street Garage renovation and $10 million renovation of the adjacent Parade Plaza.
It is the result of a partnership of Hygienic Art with the city of New London and the New London Parking Commission.
"Hygienic Art has always been an organization that functions in the community, and the New London Light Cube is one more example of that," said Joseph Celli, who manages the parking garage and is a member of the Hygienic board. "We believe art should always be part of the community, not isolated from it."
The lights will be visible to people walking or driving downtown, passing through on a train, or from the deck of a ferry on the Thames River. The colors of the lights change gradually rather than flashing or flickering.
The project was funded through a grant the Hygienic received last year from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
The ceremony came close to the end of the Spring Food Stroll, which drew more than 900 people to downtown New London to sample food, browse galleries and witness the first glint of color from the light cube.
"It's really nice for New London Main Street and the Hygienic to work in partnership for this project," Main Street Executive Director Annah Perch said. "It's exciting to see this downtown even busier than on a normal food stroll night, which is always busy and festive."
More than 50 restaurants, galleries and shops participated in the stroll, offering strollers samples of their food and goods as local musicians filled the cool spring air with music.
Knots of strollers moved along Bank Street, some holding disposable bowls and spoons from their last stop. Everywhere, diners were running into people they knew or comparing notes on what they had just eaten.
The Ancient Mariners, a fife and drum corps, marched along Bank Street, their musical call to arms echoing off the buildings. At the corner of Bank and State streets, a Revolutionary War soldier urged passersby to cross the street to the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, where they could slake their thirst with three kinds of beer.
A new addition to the food stroll this spring was The Seehund German Pub & Restaurant, which opened April 24 at the Bank Street location that once housed Ye Olde Tavern.
"Main Street is excited to have them join the stroll and celebrate with them," Perch said. "Whenever there is a new restaurant in town, the regular strollers get excited to go try it out."
Mark Vecchitto, executive chef at Seehund, said many strollers who sampled his bratwurst and gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms said they planned to return for a full meal.
"The stroll is so exciting, it's bringing us so much attention," he said. "It's really working out well."
The event also helps promote restaurants and shops by attracting scores of people who might not often venture downtown and giving them a taste of what the Whaling City has to offer.
"I'm positive it brings people back and even people who live in New London find out about or get the chance to try a place they never had thought to try," Perch said. "And people from outside New London get to come in and see what's new in the downtown. I hear story after story of people discovering something new at the food stroll."