Let there be light, the Gary Heat Light Water Project declared.
The collective of artists and urban preservationists, led by Jan Tichy, an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute, is placing lights in underfunded city parks as part of its Gary Lights Open Works project.
“It’s to make sure light is available in the parks, so the parks can be highly utilized,” said Gary Parks Department Superintendent McKenya Dilworth. “It’s a big part of safety and making sure young people feel safe.”
Lights are a deterrent to crime that make parks safe for kids, Dilworth said.
“If we know where they are, we know they’re not into mischief,” she said.
An artist-made light was recently installed at the basketball courts at Borman Square Park in Gary, and plans call for expanding the program around Gary. The city has 57 parks total, but only 36 are currently utilized.
“The lights will go to the darkest parks in the city,” Dilworth said. “We’re listening to the young people about where they should go next.”
Artists David Rueter and Marisa Lee Benedict designed the solar panel-powered light at Borman Square Park, which changes colors, going through the full rainbow of the color spectrum. They’re going to create as many as nine additional site-specific streetlights across the city.
“The streetlights in Gary were originally built by the steel company and they used to flicker because they were running off the mill’s power and secondary to the mill’s power,” he said. “They flickered because they weren’t reliable. We wanted to imagine a different kind of energy powering the lights.”
In a bid to democratize the infrastructure, Rueter and Benedict design their LED lights so anyone in the city could program them to do a light show, ideally in conjunction with other lights on a grid.
“The goal is a larger-scale light show,” he said.
Benedict said they plan to construct streetlights out of steel, oak and other materials related to Gary’s history. Each light will be tailored to its site and powered by some form renewable energy.
“Our project GLOW, or Gary Lights Open Works, rethinks public works, opening it up to the people,” she said. “It addresses infrastructure that doesn’t have to come from the city or the government. It's an open works."
While their lights fill a need and improve public safety in Gary, the artists also hope to start a dialogue by making streetlights less standardized and more playful, such as by changing colors, blinking, fading, syncing with music, reacting to speech or communicating with other lights, Rueter said.
“Our goal is to primarily create an artwork for people to think about,” Rueter said.