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Michigan business expands wildly popular light show born during pandemic

The Wixom-based Bluewater Technologies teamed up with John Ball Zoo in 2020 for "IllumiZoo." Since then, the idea has expanded across the country.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and in 2020 when the world shut down because of COVID-19, most people would agree that entertainment became a necessity.

So, the Wixom, Michigan-based Bluewater Technologies got busy inventing.

"Live events were shut down. We were sitting on a whole bunch of AV and lighting gear and tried to figure out what's the best way that we can put this into application to try to serve our communities at the same time, and bring something to life," said Braden Graham who serves as Vice President of Operations and Client Services for Live Events at Bluewater Technologies.

That something turned out to be the wooded trails of the Multi Lakes Conservation Association on the east side of the state. The company created a light show there, and not long after that worked out a similar concept with John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids.

"IllumiZoo was born. We went from kind of that initial phone call to five weeks later opening the doors with a complete activation last fall," Graham said.

The event was a huge success. Not only did it get a lot of attention from the community but Graham says it also brought the zoo's conservation message to life. For example, this year's IllumiZoo features an interactive LED wall where you can learn about pollinators by bringing a flower field to life.

The concept has also expanded across the country.

"We did a run down in Jacksonville, Florida at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens this summer," Graham said.

"Similar model for them when we went in and activated the zoo. They had a couple more daytime activations and then they would do a special event once a week on Friday nights, and they'd fill the zoo and gardens down there. So we're gaining momentum and gaining traction and it's been an exciting journey through this."

Graham wants to stress to people who visited IllumiZoo in Grand Rapids last year that this year's event will have new features.

"The last thing we want is 'Yeah, I went and saw that last year. It was the same thing,'" he said.

One of the new features this year is called Paw Prints.

"Paw Prints is a fun projection on the ground that tracks your movement and you chase animal paw prints around and when you catch them they make noise," Graham said.

Favorites from last year like the fairy garden have been brought back for 2021, but this time around, it's even bigger.

IllumiZoo runs every Wednesday-Sunday at John Ball Zoo through November 14. There will be music theme nights every Wednesday. You can reserve your timed tickets on the zoo's website.

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