Prepare for our city to be transformed – in the blink of an eye
By Thom Mariner
For four evenings in the middle of October, downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine will be lit up in ways none of us have ever seen before. But it is not just light, it’s light as art, as personal expression, as interactive and shared experiences. Fun. Thought provoking. Emotionally moving. Technologically wow-inducing. Light with meaning and purpose. This is the premise behind and the promise of BLINK. It appears we should get ready to think about light, and about our city, in a whole new way.
BLINK is the oversized love child of three Cincinnati organizations: the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, LumenoCity co-producers Brave Berlin, and the experiential marketing agency, Agar. Local nonprofit ArtWorks was brought in near the beginning of the planning, and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber came on board last fall to manage logistics, operations and hospitality.
In practical terms, BLINK will be organized along 20 city blocks running the length of the downtown basin, from The Banks to Findlay Market and beyond – mostly along or near the streetcar route. Artists from Greater Cincinnati and around the world will create more than 70 outdoor, light-based art installations, and the nationally promoted celebration is slated to attract hundreds of thousands to our urban core.
ArtWorks founder Tamara Harkavy described the event as, “street art meets graphic design and lighting and projection, meets sculpture and installation, meets food and beer in a big celebration of Cincinnati’s heritage.”
Source Cincinnati and the Regional Tourism Network have been promoting the event on a regional and national basis, securing stories in Southwest Airlines’ in-flight magazine and two prominent mentions in the New York Times.
Mid-October was chosen – Thursday, Oct. 12 through Sunday, Oct. 15 – “due to its optimum intersection of dark evenings and comfortable weather,” said Rich Walburg, communications director for the Chamber. Warm, and hopefully dry enough, to be comfortable outdoors, while providing 4-5 evening hours after dusk. Walburg suggests attendees will need more than one evening to see it all.
Even before the final presentation of LumenoCity in 2015, Brave Berlin partners Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan realized the pending closure of Music Hall was going to interrupt their collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony, and began looking for ways to take what they had learned and apply it elsewhere. “We realized we could take that architectural projection mapping art form and blow it out all over the city,” said Reynolds. And given the Haile Foundation’s support of LumenoCity, they began conversations with executive director Tim Maloney about future possibilities.
“We had a hunger for this type of art,” said Maloney. “We share the same passion.”
Then along came Andrew Salzbrun and Josh Heuser from Agar, who had recently returned, revved up by what they had experienced in the Wynwood Walls arts district of Miami, Fla. This desolate neighborhood north of downtown was reclaimed thanks to the vision of a real estate developer who unleashed world-class street artists on the walls of abandoned buildings. They wanted to create something similar surrounding Findlay Market and in the outreaches of Over-the-Rhine.
It did not take Maloney and team long to envision something special – an event combining the distinct, yet complementary ideas of these two companies, and truly put Cincinnati on the global artistic map. Having helped fund ArtWorks projects for years, he knew of its experience producing street art projects and connecting with the artist community, so he brought founder Harkavy onto the team.
“For the past 2 1/2 years (the creative team has) literally toured the world looking at the best of light-based performance,” said Maloney. Their travels took them to Berlin, Leeds (Great Britain), London, Montreal, Baltimore and Sydney, which he called “the best of the best.” It was knowledge of the technology used in Sydney that had inspired LumenoCity. Some of the many artists they met will be participating in BLINK.
In addition to the expected positive economic impact on the city, Maloney said BLINK will project a strong theme of unity and diversity. “I think public art can convey a strong message,” said Maloney. “We like pushing the boundaries on that.”
“Given the current state of division around the world, we’re really going to dial up ‘love,’ ” added McGowan.
Highlights along ‘the path’…
Zone 1: The Banks
The southern tip of the BLINK “path” is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Jewish Federation and Holocaust and Humanity Center were also consulted. Children’s drawings, intended to capture America’s struggle for inclusive freedom and equality, will serve as what Harkavy called the “fodder” for Brave Berlin’s illumination of the Freedom Center, what she called the “main stage” of BLINK. Also, projections near Great American Ball Park.
Zone 2: Central Business District
The path moves up Main Street to the CBD, including installations on Fountain Square, Federal Reserve Park, projections on the Federal Building and on the last remaining skywalk, and behind St. Xavier Church. Lightborne is illuminating the Contemporary Arts Center. The Charley Harper murals at Court and Walnut streets will be animated by We Have Become Vikings. There are projections above Eighth Street from the Main Library. In Piatt Park, along Garfield Street – in addition to an art installation produced by branding firm LPK – Summerfair is presenting a multi-evening arts and crafts fair along the two blocks extending west to Elm, leading to another projection on Covenant First Presbyterian Church.
Zone 3: Over-the-Rhine
Projection mapping and installations will be located throughout OTR, from the Central Parkway median north through Washington Park, and from Main Street west to beyond Elm Street. There are several key interactive installations in the park, including Architects of Air KATENA Luminarium and Jen Lewin’s The Pool, plus projections onto Memorial Hall and OTR murals.
Zone 4: Findlay Market
This zone actually extends north from Washington Park along Pleasant Street to Findlay Market and to the west, just across Central Parkway into the West End. Residents of Pleasant have created their own lawn lighting presentation, and you can find The World’s Largest Disco Ball (2,200 lbs.) at the corner of 15th Street. This zone will be the focal point for Agar – an extensive series of large murals created by world-class street artists, who planned to begin their work in late September. “When they see the work of these artists,” Agar’s Heuser said, “it’s going to be one more layer that gets people excited.” (LINK TO AGAR PROFILE)
The international artists Agar has booked for BLINK are D*FACE (United Kingdom), ROA (Belgium), Bicicleta Sem Freio (Brazil) and Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuania).
The streetcar will allow people to hop on and off along the path. Streets will remain open. While there will be occasional “oases” of food, drink and entertainment, organizers want attendees to patronize nearby shops, restaurants and bars.
In other cities, the shows were spread out across large cities and visitors had to drive or ride from one installation to another. Cincinnati will be different, according to Walburg. “People will always be able to see where the next installation is.”
Installations will be looped in 4-5 minute segments, so people can watch, then move on to the next. Some will be interactive, and some will have sound or musical components. But “this is not a music festival,” clarified Reynolds.
While in Leeds, Harkavy said, the best part of what they experienced was the parade.
“We can do a parade!” Harkavy said. “We have the queen of parades,” referring to ArtWorks board member, artist Pam Kravetz, known for her outrageous public display of outfits, infectious spirit and leadership of events and parades all over the city.
“We want to combine the crazy of Northside, the silly of Bockfest, the beauty of Opening Day and the community of Pride,” said Kravetz, who teaches art at Harrison High School in Harrison.
The parade, which kicks off the celebration – about 7:15 on Thursday evening, Oct. 12 – will include “thousands of people,” she said. The parade route starts north of Findlay Market, proceeds down Vine Street, then crosses over to the west and ends in Washington Park. “Everyone in the parade must light up,” Kravetz said.
We want it to be a spectacle – the crazier the better; the brighter the better. We want it to be community-based. We want people to giggle with excitement when they see it.” She credits ArtWorks parade staff members Marie Krulewitch-Browne and Josh Stout for being part of her #bestparadeteamever.
Participants will range from young children to high school bands and choirs to belly dancers from Rabbit Hash, Ky. Kravetz said there will be a surprise guest marshal and that she’s still “working on” her own costume.
Everything in the parade will be “human powered” – no cars or trucks. “We’re going to give out glow sticks and light-up necklaces so people feel like this belongs to them.”
Kravetz loves parades. “I get what the joy is.” Unlike the event it launches, which lasts four evenings, “This is a moment in time, and you have to really maximize that moment. And I love that, the performance aspect.”
Reynolds’ assessment of what the Chamber has brought to the event was shared across the team: “They put their A team on this. I can’t even imagine what we would have done without them. They have allowed us to focus on our
Each partner had their own take on what excites them most about creating BLINK.
Brave Berlin’s McGowan said, “I want people to see the creative bench strength here in our city. I think people are going to be blown away by how inventive artists have been. His partner Reynolds echoed, “It’s pretty staggering that a city our size has the art and design talent we have.”
ArtWorks’ Harkavy said, “I’m at the crossroads of petrified and super excited,” she laughed.
“It’s fresh, it’s new, it’s future thinking, it’s forward, it’s engaging…it hits on all these high notes. If we do our jobs right, people are going to be thinking a bout Cincinnati – where we are and where we can go.”
Haile Foundation’s Maloney feels “we’re onto something big. We want to give that spiritual element to people (what McGowan called “that goosebump moment”), the way we did with the first LumenoCity. We’re going to knock this town on its ear.”
By hitting them right in the eye. Don’t blink!
Click on a thumbnail below to view the full BLINK gallery