Ai Nati Oggi — the Magic Lanterns in Ghent

On Saint Pharaildis square in Ghent, you will find one of the most touching yet not widely known urban art installations called Ai Nati Oggi, Italian for ‘to those born today’.

It all began in 2000 with the urban art festival Over the Edges in Ghent. For this festival an Italian artist called Alberto Garutti created a simple yet genial concept: every time a baby was born in Ghent, the parents of the newborn would push a special button in the hospital, and the lanterns on Friday Market in Ghent would salute their offspring. At daytime, they would light up for 40 seconds, and in the evening the lights would be dimmed to 40 percent of their capacity to brighten up when a birth is signaled.

The installation was conceived as temporary and when the festival ended, so did the magic. But not for long: the Ghentians loved Ai Nati Oggi so much, that in 2011 the city council purchased the artwork concept from Alberto Garutti (for a stunning EUR 125,000!) and since then the lights have been working their magic again. The only change is the location: instead of Friday Market, the installation was moved to Saint Pharaildis Square next to the Castle of the counts.

On the pavement of the square, you will find stone plates with the text calling the attention of the passers-by to the artwork. It is indeed necessary to attract some attention, as the artwork is so subtle that you can easily miss it even on the moment supreme: the lights brighten up for just 40 seconds. That is why at the end of 2013, when the connection between the lamps and the Ghent hospitals broke because of technical issues and the lights stopped brightening every time a baby was born, no one noticed it for quite a while. And when they did notice, the reparations took almost a year: the cobblestones had to be removed and the wiring had to be replaced completely – not an easy task in the busy city center next to one of the most visited tourist sites, the Castle of the Counts.

But all was done and since the end of 2014 Ai Nati Oggi marks the birth of every single new Ghentian. So if you are on Saint Pharaildis Square and notice something strange happening to the six street lights there, be sure it is not a technical issue, it is our hospitable city welcoming its new inhabitant!