In the 1980s maverick Scottish artist George Wyllie sailed a life-size paper boat up the Hudson River in New York, and berthed it next to the World Financial Centre in the heart of Manhattan’s banking industry. To a general public unused to such displays of public art and provocation, it was quite the thing.

Whilst Wyllie’s ‘statement’ may have garnered an awful lot of attention at the time (the boat itself made the front page of the Wall Street Journal), the event has gradually slipped from memory with the procession of time.

However, the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine, which hosted an exhibition of Wyllie’s work over the summer (and indeed acquired the ‘last piece’ of the sculpture), has used that experience to create an event for the forthcoming Winter Festivals programme.

The four-day festival, which begins on St Andrew’s Day, Wednesday, November 30, will see Wyllie’s inspiration rekindled in an interactive light display, using 200 little origami paper boats, made from recyclable polypropylene, tethered together by wires and floated out into Irvine Harbour.

“It’s a chance to make Irvine literally shine and highlight everything that’s going on around the harbour,” says Fiona Carmichael, the museum’s curator, excitedly.

“We had the exhibition during the summer and we had lots of engagement with schoolchildren, making paper boats. It was whilst researching other events that could go alongside that, that we discovered these light artists, Aether & Hemera, who are based down in Newcastle but work internationally. We contacted them because one of the installations they have is a series of 200 little paper boats that light up. We wanted to see if that was logistically possible to put something like that out in the River Irvine, and they said it would be. That was about the time the Scottish Government’s winter festivals programme was open, and so we applied.”

An added element to the display is the fact that the audience will get a chance to direct some of the proceedings; via an online web app, people are to be encouraged to vote for their favourite configurations of the LED lights on their smartphones or tablets.

“We wanted to add a bit of interactivity. So they will be able to change the lights, with rainbow effects or sparkle,” adds Carmichael. “One of them will be Saltire to tie in with St Andrew’s Day; and that can change again to something else depending on how the vote is going.”

A hundred butterflies that light up and change colour as well as three 5ft-high sailing vessels made from neon tubes will complete the light exhibits; in addition, the harbour will feature a lighting display, as will the Linthouse Building in the town, which houses the museum.

The community will also be encouraged to put lights in their windows as part of an engagement programme, which includes a lantern parade along the harbour by Ayrshire Youth Art. Inside the building itself, aerial acrobat performers Spinal Chord will dangle from the rafters (actual girders, incidentally) on silks and ropes, while fireworks company Midnight Storm will open and close the festival with a stunning display across the town. All of the work is tied together – under the stewardship of local events firm Zysis – with the aim of encouraging more people to attend the museum, Carmichael adds.

“We’ve got some beautiful architecture and some great exhibits in the museum so it’s a chance to change the way people view museums, make them an exciting space to be in, and hopefully make them come back. It’s opening the doors to audiences who maybe wouldn’t have come before.”