The Wabash Lights and New Trends in Public Art

The Wabash Lights, a new Kickstarter-funded interactive public art installation, launched its beta test Thursday night. The beta test is an installation of four twelve-foot lengths of LED lights underneath the ‘L’ tracks between Monroe and Adams. Eventually, the Wabash Lights will run the length of seven blocks, from Van Buren Street to Lake Street. Passers-by will use their phones to change the colors and patterns they see up in the ‘L’ tracks above. In both its design and funding, the Wabash Lights presents an intriguing glimpse at the changing face of contemporary public art in Chicago.

Wabash Lights Beta Test
The Wabash Lights as seen from the sidewalk on the night the beta test began. Photo Credit: Alex Bean

The “Public” of Public Art

Last summer the designers of the Wabash Lights, Jack Newell and Seth Unger, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the beta test. They explained why the project was looking for crowd-sourced donations to fund the beta test.

“We are Kickstarting this project because it’s important to us that The Wabash Lights be seeded by the public. Public art is often created by one, paid for by few, but meant for everyone. We want to reverse that notion and bring the voice of the public into our project as donors and also designers.”

It’s fascinating to hear this statement of downtown public art coming from the people. Some of downtown’s other public art has been, as Newell and Unger say, commissioned and executed by a select few. As guests on our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour know, the Chicago Picasso was carefully overseen by Mayor Richard J. Daley. He arranged for a $100,000 commission for Picasso from the Chicago Public Building Commission. The sculpture’s actual construction was paid for by three large charitable funds. That same method of top-down control is still widely used for public art commissions.

The Wabash Lights designers, on the other hand, will fund the complete installation through donations by corporations and foundations. Nevertheless, asking the general public for funding might speak to changing trends in the art world.

Wabash Lights beta test
The Wabash Lights will be programmable and run the length of the Wabash Street ‘L.’ Photo Credit: Alex Bean

Interactivity of the Wabash Lights

The big hook of the Wabash Lights is the art installation’s interactive quality. Each LED light tube can have its display reprogrammed from the smartphones of passersby. The designers claim that each 1/2 inch section of the lights will be controllable. So if a pedestrian had a great day at work, she can turn a stretch of Wabash Avenue into a neon yellow reflection of their mood. Alternately, a street musician could create some mood lighting of his personal tastes for his street-corner stage. Eventually the Wabash Lights might turn this corner of the Loop into an attraction with its kaleidoscope of colors.

The full experience of the Wabash Lights will not be felt for a while yet. Plans call for the beta test to run for the next 6-12 months. In that time the lights will not be interactive. Instead, the designers will use the time to experiment with a variety of displays. Also they will troubleshoot any technological, logistical and design hurdles that spring up after installation and activation.

You can check out the Wabash Lights for yourself on Wabash between Monroe and Adams. The lights will turn on evening around dusk and stay on until 1 or 2 in the morning.

Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

be a
curious
person!

SIGN UP FOR OCCASIONAL UPDATES FROM CHICAGO DETOURS.

Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

Book a virtual tour

Fill in your details below