May 09, 2017

“Testing phase for ‘Breathing Lights’ in vacant buildings”

Date published: 04/06/2016
Publication: Times Union

By Amy Biancolli Updated 10:36 pm, Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A temporary art installation that will soon transform hundreds of vacant buildings in Albany, Schenectady and Troy into sources of gently pulsing light is now in the testing phase, said the artists and organizers behind the project.

“It’s inching to fruition,” said Adam Frelin, one of the artists and masterminds behind “Breathing Lights,” the three cities’ winning submission to the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge.

Frelin attended a news event Wednesday afternoon at the former St. Mary’s Church on Eastern Avenue in Schenectady, where the “Breathing Lights” team recently ran trial illuminations of eight empty buildings.

The work tested the lights themselves and coordination among various human elements in the process, including the contractor, the land bank, zoning and coding, Frelin said. The trial runs also gave him “a chance to refine the effect — so being out there on the street and learning about when it looks good, when it doesn’t look good.” In the past, Frelin has compared the effect to large, breathing animals or “a dormant life source that exists below the entire region.”

Mayors Kathy Sheehan of Albany, Gary McCarthy of Schenectady and Patrick Madden of Troy attended the event and announced further details about “Breathing Lights.” The project is financed with a Bloomberg grant of approximately $1 million and through local fundraising.

McCarthy, noting the “uniqueness” of “Breathing Lights,” emphasized its focus on “distressed properties that most communities try to hide and tend to want to walk away from.” The effort instead highlights such properties and considers ways to “convert those back” to the community, he said.

Lead architect Barbara Nelson, who conceived and developed the project with Frelin, said, “‘Breathing Lights’ will bring the power of art to bear on this problem that threatens our most vulnerable neighborhoods.”

“Breathing Lights” will be up and running in roughly 300 empty buildings — maybe more, maybe less — every night between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. in October and November. Once uninstalled, most buildings will be up for sale through the land banks.

Each city and its appointed “hubs” will have an installation weekend, which will be Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Troy, hosted by the Sanctuary for Independent Media and the Arts Center of the Capital Region; Oct. 28-29 in Schenectady, hosted by Proctors and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady; and Nov. 4-5 in Albany, hosted by the Albany Barn and the Historic Albany Foundation.

One of four Bloomberg winners nationwide and the only winner from the Northeast, the project was submitted by Albany on behalf of all three cities. Among its 25 public and private partners are General Electric, the Capital Region Creative Economy Project and the Lighting Research Center.

“This is stunning, and it’s a perfect embodiment of what can happen when we work together,” said Sheehan, who announced details of a new arts competition for projects relating thematically to “Breathing Lights.” Submissions, which can be in any medium or genre, are due by April 29. (For more information, see

Other community programs announced in conjunction are “building reclamation clinics” to aid the public in buying and rehabbing properties; youth media workshops presented by Youth FX in Albany, Proctors in Schenectady and the Youth Media Sanctuary in Troy; and “affinity projects,” including exhibits and performances at galleries around the region. In addition, Wednesday’s event included “Rehab Hero” awards for to Bonnie Novella of Mohawk Realty and Sandra Vardine, director of the House of Angeles Renaissance Projects, which rehabbed St. Mary’s.

Also on hand were several “neighborhood ambassadors” who serve as liaisons between the “Breathing Lights” project and the communities. News of the installation “was received with a sigh of relief,” said Shawn McLean, an ambassador for Troy, “because there have been many attempts to try and get a way of rehabbing these buildings – of getting the community involved. So once the knowledge of this program became public knowledge, the expectation was that, finally, we can get some things accomplished.”
[email protected] • 518-454-5439 • @AmyBiancolli

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