A group of residents in Westmount tell their story about making the winter nights a little brighter.

The creativity was inspiring. Using windows as a canvas, a group of Westmount residents held their first local Window Wanderland this February, creating a quirky outdoor art gallery to brighten the dark nights.

A business, an apartment resident and people living in more than 40 houses from across the neighbourhood participated, registering online to create a walking trail for curious wanderers. Back-lit, the images glowed and lit up the front yards with silhouettes and stained-glass windows.

For one weekend only, it brought a sense of wonder and fun; it was the talk of the neighbourhood. Some windows were incredibly intricate with peacocks, vacation memories, undersea adventures and trips through the solar system. Many people walked or drove through the neighbourhood on a particularly frosty weekend, following a Google map posted on the Westmount Community League website or just hunting for pretty windows.

The Westmount group is planning to run the event again next year, likely on the second weekend in February. Other neighbourhoods are welcome to join in. Here are some of the lessons we learned from our first year.

Plan for a multi-year build

Let’s face it. The basic idea here is a little confusing. Who thinks of putting up tissue paper and black cardstock on their window?

Expect to have a smaller group of families who participate the first year. There are likely many more who checked out their neighbours’ windows but just didn’t feel confident participating the first time around. Make sure you collect email addresses from participants as they register so you can reconnect and build it bigger year by year.

Consider hosting a workshop

We collected supplies and opened the community league hall for a Sunday afternoon before the event. Black bristol board and tissue paper were the most popular supplies and it was nice for neighbours to be able to share ideas as they got to work.

We did it one week before the event but next year, we’ll aim for two weeks to give people more time to finish at home. We’re also hoping to organize a more structured kids’ table to keep them entertained while the parents work. Popcorn and hot chocolate are really affordable snack options.

Connect with local businesses early

If your neighbourhood is blessed with a local coffee shop, connect with them early on to see if they will stay open late. That gives a place for neighbours to meet and warm up, adding an additional social element to the event.

But they need time to schedule additional staff, and you may want to talk with them about how much business they need to make it worthwhile and what you can honestly expect to deliver.

Create a map

One good option for this is to use Google forms and maps. Create a Google form and encourage people to register their house with their address, a name for their art and their email address (so you can contact them later).

This automatically generates a spreadsheet. If you add a column in your spreadsheet to specify that all these addresses are in Edmonton, Alberta, you can import the list directly into Google Maps. That gives you a free, interactive map to share on social media and/or embed on your community league’s website. You can update it repeatedly as the event draws near.

Note: The Window Wanderland concept was dreamed up by a group in the United Kingdom and is copyrighted. We paid $85 just to use the name this year. For a higher fee, you can also buy technological support.

Spread the word

The neighbourhood Facebook group was probably our best tool. We also used connections with the local school and preschool to spread the word, and moved up the date so we could get event photos into the neighbourhood news magazine. We figured that was a good move to build awareness head of next year. We also printed flyers and did some door-to-door delivery with the volunteers we had. We need a better strategy to reach people living in condo buildings.

Let creativity run wild

Invite people to simply search the words “Window Wanderland” online. There are hundreds of great ideas. The simplest approach is to use black bristol board to cut out silhouettes and add tissue paper for colour, then use a lamp behind the window to make it come alive.

Posted under Winter Culture