Garden of Lights Coming to McConnell Arboretum November 2020
By Melissa Mendonca
Let the be Light
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Serena Munro
ANY TRIP TO Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Australian Outback is sure to elicit contemplation, wonder and awe. For Ken and Bobbi Hunter of Santa Ynez, it also spurred inspiration for their property in Paso Robles.
It so happened that their adventure trip to Uluru coincided with a mesmerizing and enormous outdoor light exhibit by British artist Bruce Munro. The experience was so profound, they contacted Munro to create something similar for their property, now known as Sensorio.
More than a decade ago, the Hunters purchased the 380 acres of land across the street from their business, Hunter Ranch Golf Course in Paso Robles.
“Ken knew he wanted to create something that would give back to the community, that would be a legacy project,” says Tracy Strann. A consulting company was hired to dream big for the property, to “rival and exceed anyone’s expectations,” she adds. “They came up with this huge project, and it took years.”
The Bruce Munro Field of Light at Sensorio quickly eclipsed all previous plans to become the first of several phases at Sensorio. It opened on May 19 of this year and is Munro’s largest international and only solar-powered U.S. project to date.
“People are hungry for personal experience, and that’s what this is,” says Strann, executive director of Sensorio. The experience of the Field of Light is a half-mile circular walk through a canyon lit by 58,800 optic solar lights that morph color. “Just naturally, there is a hush that happens. People really get in contact with their own emotions, their own inspiration. Everybody has a personal experience with it. It’s a little like going to Oz.”
Since its opening, roughly 3,000 visitors have wound their way through the Field of Light each week, with opening hours varying monthly based upon the time of sundown. “They all go in separately and they come out with each other, talking, laughing. People come out with tears in their eyes. It’s very fulfilling,” says Strann. “Experiential art is kind of the future. People are looking for connection.”
Strann herself was recruited out of New York for her position, after wide and varied experiences in the arts, including helping to open and run the Grammy Museum and Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of something completely new,” she says. When she arrived in Paso Robles, the land was just starting to be graded and installation of utilities had only just begun. “There was literally nothing,” she says with a laugh. “In seven months, we opened.”
The Field of Light itself took six weeks to complete with 15-23 staff and volunteers working eight hours a day, five days a week. Munro himself oversaw all of the work and brought four staff members with him. Sensorio hired another four, and 300 volunteers chipped in.
The Field of Light experience can be as simple as a stroll or as elegant as a VIP experience that includes a four-course gourmet picnic dinner catered by Trumpet Vine Catering with two drinks at a raised terrace offering a tremendous view of the lights. Guests wanting a more casual experience can visit a Mexican food truck on the grounds and buy local beer. Live music plays every night.
While it can be a romantic experience for couples – “all of a sudden there was a pop-up wedding in the middle of the lights,” says Strann – it’s a place for everyone. “We do family nights when all kids are half price,” she adds. The Field of Lights has also attracted Bruce Munro fans from as far as Australia and New Zealand. “It’s a combination of every kind of human being you can imagine,” says Strann. “It appeals to everyone.”
Closer to home, The Garden of Lights is expecting a November 2020 debut at Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s McConnell Arboretum. The 10-acre arboretum will be decked out in architecturally designed light displays, creating a holiday fantasyland for two months. Pitched by the Redding Chamber of Commerce during the Redding City Identity Project, the Garden of Lights will offer a “wow” factor sure to brighten faces during festive times of dreary weather.
“Experiential art is kind of the future,” says Strann. “People are looking for connection.” They’re finding it in Paso Robles at the Field of Light. Soon North State residents won’t have to travel so far for their own opportunity. With the Sundial Bridge as the gateway to the Garden of Lights, the local experience is poised to rival that of any other light display in the country. •
Bruce Munro: Field of Light at Sensorio
4380 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles
Garden of Lights at McConnell Arboretum
Opening November 2020
Internationally-acclaimed artist Bruce Munro has created his largest work to date, Bruce Munro:Field of Light at Sensorio in Paso Robles, CA on display from May 19, 2019-January 5, 2020.