For seven nights, beginning Monday and running through next Sunday, the Inner Harbor is going to be lit up like nobody's business. From a giant peacock to a calving glacier, from a lighted bridge that will put spectators inside a rainbow to illuminated shapes designed as a memorial to the men and women whose deaths inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, 28 carefully lit art installations will look to delight, inspire and even challenge visitors. Organizers are pledging this will be the first of many annual festivals of "light, music and innovation" to come.
Light City's 1.5-mile Light Art Walk, stretching north from the Maryland Science Center to Pratt Street, then east to Harbor East, will feature about 50 attractions, including performance stages, food and drink stations and even a sideshow, complete with burlesque and aerial performers. But its centerpiece will be the installations set up along the route, all brightly lit (no wonder the walk is being sponsored by BG&E), all vividly imaginative, all welcoming visitors for free.
Here's a look at six of those installations, and a visit with the artists whose creativity is making them possible.
Ever wonder what living inside a rainbow might be like? Erin Barry-Dutro and Kyle Steely's "Pixel Promenade" might offer a clue.
A network of 90 13-foot LED strips, more than 10,000 LED lights in all, extending 60 feet and suspended over the pedestrian bridge connecting piers 4 and 5, the installation will surround spectators in glowing lights. A computer program, picking up on the movements of the crowd, will keep the lights flashing at assorted intervals and changing colors.
The two artists, working under the name Radiance, knew the basics of what they wanted to do — something colorful and computer-driven, the better to take advantage of Steely's technical expertise and Barry-Dutro's aesthetic sensibilities. They considered several possibilities, but once they saw the pedestrian bridge and realized the possibilities, all bets were called.
"It felt like it was a good location, to come around that building and come upon this reflexive glowing tunnel," says Barry-Dutro, 30, who studied printing and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and has lived in Baltimore about eight years. "None of the other locations seemed quite as compelling."
Gregory St. Pierre and Andrew Bernstein's "Water Wall," which effectively transforms shooting jets of Inner Harbor water into a harbor-side movie screen, tries to strike a balance between the planned and the unplanned, the fixed and the chaotic. The result is an intoxicating mix of sound and light that should never do quite what you expect.
"I was looking to create something that is in the moment, but sort-of has infinite possibilities," says St. Pierre, 30, a Providence, R.I., native who has been living in Baltimore (most recently Mount Vernon) since graduating from Goucher College, where he studied studio art and electronic music. "The idea was to come up with a system where you're balancing things that you aren't in control of with things that you are in control of."
Set up pierside, near the Four Seasons Hotel, streams of water will be propelled out of the harbor in the shape of a fan. A series of geometric, shifting multi-colored shapes will be projected onto the resulting wall, accompanied by an aural melange of bleeps, bloops and blips. Sensors will be trained on where spectators will be standing; they, too, in a fashion, will be projected onto the water screen, as a squiggle of lines that move as they move and shift in size as they approach.
The shapes will be shown on a continuous loop; the tonal quality of the sounds will be dependent on the size and proximity of audience. And the squiggles? Half the fun of "Water Wall" will be watching what they look like, and trying to figure out how to maneuver the resulting image.
This 21-foot-high, 35-foot-wide illuminated peacock, displaying all the colors of the rainbow when its feathers are fully extended, was almost a pink flamingo — which might have proclaimed Baltimore! more loudly (thanks, John Waters), but wouldn't have been nearly as colorful.
"Yeah, It started out as something more Baltimore-centric: "What if we did a big pink flamingo?" says Kyle Miller, 43, a sculptor living in Hampden.
"That was the first idea," agrees his partner, Tim Scofield, 45, who studied sculpture at Syracuse University and lives in the Idlewylde community in Baltimore County. "You know, you sit around and have a few drinks and brainstorm about things. … It didn't take long for us to rule that out."
Just as well. For as glorious a creature as the pink flamingo is, it would be hard to rival the effect of watching a huge illuminated peacock slowly extend its plumage skyward. Originally planned for a floating barge, but confined to land at Pier 5 because of logistical considerations, this magnificent steel bird weighs about 1,200 pounds and uses some 14,400 LED lights (Will Cocks and Steve Dalnekoff are responsible for the lighting). Miller and Scofield are still working out the fine details, but expect their peacock to open its feathers about once every half hour, stay open for a few minutes, then close up and rest until the next performance.
The past year has been a tough for Baltimore, and the artists behind "Pipelines" want to ensure that the public doesn't forget why.
The projection features images of black men and women, from Baltimore and throughout the U.S., who have died during encounters with law enforcement. The images are projected onto the myriad shapes that make up the McKeldin Fountain.
"Pipelines" is the work of Luminous Intervention, which has been doing similar projections onto the sides of buildings and other structures since January 2012. The group came together during 2011's Occupy Baltimore movement; since then, its guerrilla-style projections, usually unannounced and unapproved, have been seen outside a Fells Point strip club, on buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on overpasses along the Jones Falls Expressway.
McKeldin Fountain, which the Downtown Partnership said will likely be demolished by the end of the year, sits on the square where much of Occupy Baltimore played out. Images will be projected onto many of the fountain's 20-30 individual surfaces; among the subjects will be men and women such as Freddie Gray (who died of injuries sustained while in Baltimore police custody in April 2015), Tyrone West (who died after a struggle with Baltimore police following a traffic stop in July 2013), Michael Brown (who was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014) and Sandra Bland (who allegedly killed herself in July 2015 while in police custody in Waller County, Texas).
The installation will allow people to walk among the varied concrete forms that make up the fountain, offering the chance to pause and reflect. Says Ada Pinkston, 32, an art teacher in Baltimore middle schools who lives in Station North. "It's basically like a digital altar." Agrees Mike McGuire, 43, a carpenter and native Baltimorean living in Hampden, "We're doing something that certainly has a religious undertone to it."
'In Light of History'
A lot of history has happened along the Pratt Street corridor. Not all worth celebrating, perhaps, but certainly worth remembering.
That's the idea behind Paul Rucker's "In Light of History," a series of 11 illuminated sculptures going up on lamp posts along Pratt Street, between Paca and Exeter streets. Each commemorates an aspect of slave history that took place along what was once a key staging point in the Baltimore slave trade.
"There was slave trading going on all along Pratt Street," says Rucker, 47, a South Carolina native and one-time visiting artist at the Maryland Institute College of Art now splitting his time between Baltimore and Seattle. "There were slave pens that were holding people here that were on their way to Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, all over the South. This was a major stopping point going down to Louisiana."
Rucker's installations will note such sites as the offices of slave merchants (such as Hope Hull Slatter, at 242 W. Pratt St.), locations where slave auctions were held (including the sale of a 17-year-old "stout healthy Negro Wench" at Commerce and Pratt streets) and O'Donnell's Wharf, near the National Aquarium, where ships would sometimes offer slaves for sale dockside.
"I want to bring to light these things," he says, "so that we can have more informed conversations about American history. This is not about black history; it is about American history."
The installation was done in conjunction with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.*
Riki Kim can tell you all about her 1,800-pound art installation, designed to give visitors the aural and visual sensation of standing within a massive block of moving ice.
Riki K, as she's known professionally, can talk about how it'll be suspended 10 feet in the air; about how it measures 16-feet-by-14-feet and is probably the closest you'll come to being surrounded by a glacier, barring a visit to the Arctic; about how eight speakers will feed into the space, thanks to the work of a college friend who flew in from San Francisco last week just to compose the music; about how it's taken eight people to put this massive work together, "which is really not enough for a project this size."
Or she can simply boil it all down to one clearly irrefutable statement: "In simple terms, it's very cool."
A native Korean who has also lived in London, Italy and Japan, the 30-year-old has spent the last 10 years in Baltimore. She acknowledges that "Glacier" is a pretty big art project, maybe too much to have taken on in the three months she and her crew have had to build it.
But she's determined to get it done, and to make it as impressive standing near the Inner Harbor visitor center as it sounds on paper.
* This article has been updated to reflect the participation of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.