On October 4th, the lights came on in downtown Spartanburg. Brilliant pops of pigment—yellow, orange, red, green, and blue—exploded against the sky, an optical illusion from every angle as the colorful strands yielded movement to an early fall breeze. Radiating even brighter that evening? The community that made it happen.
At the core of this reinvigorated sense of Hub City pride is “Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light,” a collection of nine public art installations constructed throughout ten of the city’s surrounding neighborhoods. In its simplest description, the project is an exploration into the use of light as an art form; each site features some variety of LED, video display, flashlight, or high-powered lighting that has been designed to mirror both the natural and social makeup of its unique community. All nine were lit during a special ceremony held this past October, but according to Chapman Cultural Center president and CEO Jennifer Evins, the grand debut was only a piece of this “transformative” journey—one that has been well over a year in the making.
“The entire community has been involved with this project since day one,” she explains. “Using the creative components of art, we’ve been able to build trusting relationships between neighborhoods, between the city and the police department. All of these original thoughts bubbled out from everyone working and communicating as one with the artist.”
All Aglow // The C.C. Woodson Recreation Center in the Forest Park neighborhood of Spartanburg is one of the nine community sites Erwin Redl chose to install his fluorescent formations. This piece, Benchmark Spartanburg, is a bench with an LED- lit acrylic backing.
She’s referring to Erwin Redl, an international artist that specializes in inventive LED and other digital media creations. For Evins, it was Redl’s immediate openness to involving the public in each step of the artworks’ development that cemented his role in the project. For Redl, it was the community’s enthusiasm and the idea of a “sheer challenge” that would force him to cultivate ideas outside of his signature style. The goal was five installations. But after hearing ten neighborhoods’ proposals for their respective communities, Redl decided each was worthy of a piece they would outline, construct, and maintain together (one installation spans two neighborhoods). It was the biggest project of his career, but Redl says with the unwavering support and “positive commitment” of Spartanburg’s residents, there was never a moment that he doubted its success.
“This project involved a lot of firsts for me,” Redl admits. “But I think it’s greatly essential for a community to have something to gather around. A kind of common goal that leads to the future and gets people involved physically, aesthetically, emotionally, even spiritually. Art has that position where it can be all-encompassing.”
One of four nationwide cities chosen as winners of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge, “Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light” has received full funding from the art sector of the foundation, which Evins says is rarely available at the local level for Southern communities. Seven of the installations will remain permanent, with the two temporary exhibitions lasting until April 2017. Tuesday night trolley rides from the Chapman Cultural Center have been implemented to take visitors to each of the nine locations.
“Once the lights turned on, it was just an affirmation that the process of developing those intimate relationships really worked,” Evins says. “Now, the true outcome will be if those relationships are held strong, and how people coming to our community embrace that positive spirit and that sense of collaboration that transformed these light projects into more than just art installations.”