One thing that most University of New Mexico students can agree on is that UNM takes the traditional Fall school dance to the next level with Silent Lights, an annual outdoor silent disco in the heart of UNM Main Campus at Smith Plaza. Silent Lights is free to all students who bring their Lobo I.D. Each student has a chance to bring one guest.

Six DJs, a massive light show, and live music from three channels blaring through each set of flashing, wireless headphones provided by UNM make up this popular Fall event. This year, Silent Lights is on Sept. 28 from 8 to 11 p.m. and will likely maintain its reputation of being the largest silent disco of its kind produced in New Mexico. 

There will be three hard-to-miss stages in front of Zimmerman Library. Each pair of headphones will have three channels that correspond with the red, green, and blue lights glowing from the headset. It will be easy to find your crowd and dance to the same beat; just find those whose headphones glow the same color as yours. 

Staff at the Student Activities Center have worked alongside event sponsors including University Communication and Marketing, ASUNM Lobo Spirit and ASUNM Student Special Events to ensure the event is welcoming and entertaining for all students.

“Our assistant director has put in a lot of effort finding DJs for all three channels that will really make them unique from each other and provide a wide range of music for everyone to listen to,” Andreas Bilger, executive director of ASUNM Student Special Events, said. “This event has a lot of moving parts, but thankfully we've had a lot of help to make it happen.”

Nothing will top this year’s event installation, literally. This year’s Silent Lights theme is Neon Bosque, which will feature 23 fully-enforced, eight-feet tall modular trees with glowing, LED lights. The four-foot tree-top canopies are equipped with reflective mirrors that look down onto the audience. Each tree is two feet in diameter at the base.

Also featured among the thousands of pairs of headphones with three stages is a visual art display designed and created by two UNM alumni. 

“The whole idea of the forest is to create a metaphorical experience that many college students go through: the journey of school and life of learning and figuring out what they want to do in the world that’s kind of how the tree idea came to be,” Kirsten Angerbauer, UNM Fabrication Lab coordinator, explained.

Kaitlin Kerl and Justin Grove, Spring 2023 UNM Architecture and Design master’s degree graduates, developed a forest-like art piece called Neon Bosque with the help of Angerbauer.

Angerbauer has been the Fab Lab coordinator for the UNM School of Architecture and Planning for close to five years. Her background is in Sculpture and Fine Art, and her joy comes from guiding others and empowering them through her teaching to learn the skills to do the work themselves. Angerbauer took this mentorship role further when it came to Silent Lights. 

Kerl and Grove work for Angerbauer at the Fab Lab, but were once her students. During their graduate studies, they worked at the Fab Lab alongside her. She got them connected with the Silent Lights art installation opportunity through University Communication & Marketing (UCAM). Since then, Kerl and Grove have worked as professional interns to develop the art installation for the event. As graduates of the architecture program, the pair understand how design of a space can shape experiences.

“I think that's how art and architecture can come together: through installation and through activating spaces, which is what this project is doing,” said Angerbauer.

Recalling being in the thick of their own college experiences, they developed the concept of the Neon Bosque as a “forest of possibilities and dreams for young students,” described Angerbauer. This art is visual evidence of what they’ve accomplished and how much the two grew during their graduate studies.

Kerl and Grove started by designing the trees in Rhino, a 3D modeling program. Then, they made tiny, scale samples of the trees using the Fab Lab’s laser cutters. The art process wasn’t only about building objects. 

“This was a great opportunity to connect graduate architecture students to a real-world project that can show off their design skills, but also create an entirely new experience for others,” Angerbauer said. “It's really going to be immersive and it’s exciting to flex the capabilities of our space into this realm.”

She added that Silent Lights will very much be an other-worldly experience.

“It will take you out of your normal reality and into this fabricated, designed and very intentional space of beauty, with lots of buzzy energy and potential within the space.”

With glowing trees illuminated with lights and mirrors, the crowd will have to look up to take it all in.

“Art can be a powerful intervention into our normal lives, but it can also be a very personal experience. They may come away from it with a new understanding of it, or of themselves,” Angerbauer predicted. 

There will be first-come, first-serve giveaways for holographic stickers, bandanas and LED foam light sticks. There will also be free t-shirts for volunteers (reach out to UNM Student Activities Center to volunteer). Parking will be free in Yale parking structure from 7p.m. to midnight in non-reserved spots. The UNM Children's Campus will be providing free childcare to UNM students with enrolled children.

In 2016, the first Silent Lights event was voted Number One Best Student Event in an annual “Best of UNM” edition of The Daily Lobo.

Check out the video from a previous Silent Lights. See what it takes to put on Silent Lights.