BUILDING FOR THE ARTS TO SHINE DOWNTOWN
By Cheryl Anderson
In case there’s any doubt that Appleton is committed to promoting and sustaining the arts, look to the skies over Houdini Plaza at dusk Thursday night.
You’ll see a spectacular light show that will drive home that point.
The show is centered around the unveiling of Fox Cities Building for the Arts, which is a key component of the newly renovated Houdini Plaza in the downtown.
Sandy Garnett and his nationally recognized technology art team — with an assist from Boldt Construction and Faith Technologies — have spent the last two months quietly transforming the outside of the Building for the Arts into a constantly evolving beacon of art that’s viewable only after dusk.
Garnett, a New York Times featured artist who transformed the outside of a Stamford, Conn., train station from an eyesore into a community jewel, was commissioned in early June to “electrify” the Reigel building, the new home of the arts building, by creating a similar fine art lighting installation.
Kathi Seifert, chair of the Building for the Arts’ executive committee, said members considered ways to make the interior of the building a special gathering place for artists, but also wanted the exterior of the building to have its own “wow factor.”
After seeing Garnett’s work in the New York Times, committee member and Neenah businessman John Bergstrom suggested hiring Garnett to light up the building. The committee unanimously agreed.
“We knew the concept; the design and all the specifics were left up to the artist,” said Pamela Williams-Lime, president of the Building for the Arts.
Garnett made his first visit to Appleton in May and by early June was commissioned to start work on the original installation. It is a combination of 27 aluminum LED (light emitting diode) strips affixed to the building running in channels with full RGB (red, green,blue) capability and 25 color washes that shine on the facade — thanks to strategically positioned light boxes.
That’s more than 50 independent operations being run by master controls on top of the building and a show controller in the basement. In terms of color combinations, the sky’s the limit, Garnett said.
“Every building has its own character and my biggest concern is creating an installation that’s in keeping with the architecture,” Garnett said. “If you’re not really looking for it, it’s quiet (virtually unseen). But at night it really comes alive.”
The art installation was funded as a gift to the community from Bergstrom Automotive. The cost was not disclosed.
“An active, vibrant arts community is an important part of what we can offer to attract employers and employees to continually grow the Fox Cities,” Bergstrom said. “Having this building lit up in our downtown will demonstrate how much we embrace and promote the arts.”
Longtime businessman Oscar Boldt, an executive committee member and arts advocate, agreed.
“We have an amazing performing arts center in our community, we have a university that is known nationally for its specialization in music and the arts, and we now have a place in the heart of our community where the arts and artists can gather,” Boldt said. “It only makes sense to have the building be a demonstration of art itself.”
Williams-Lime sees the new installation as a way to reach out to the community.
“This installation on the outside of the building is a way to invite (people) into the building to see what’s evolving within the building and the Trout Museum (of Art),” she said.
The building houses five other local arts organizations, including the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra, new Voices (formerly the White Heron Chorale), the Makaroff Youth Ballet and the Appleton Boychoir.
“The combination of our Trout Museum, the new Houdini Plaza, and now our electrified Fox Cities Building for the Arts facility brings a whole new level of excitement of the visual arts to our downtown,” Seifert said. “It will be another opportunity for us to demonstrate our appreciation of the arts as it relates to attracting and retaining talent who work and live in our community.”
— Cheryl Anderson: 920-993-1000, ext. 249, firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @chermanderson