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The Wabash Lights: A Conversation With The Designers

By Carrie McGath in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 18, 2015 4:00PM

The Elevated (L) tracks running along Wabash Avenue are a testament to the city's pace, its hardworking backbone and its edgy architectural uniqueness. These tracks connect the city as they transport commuters to the central Loop hub, while also tying neighborhoods together with numerous intersecting train lines. Although iconic, this longstanding staple of the city is often overlooked, but that will not be the case much longer if the vision of two Chicago designers is realized.

Photo courtesy of Seth Unger and Jack C. Newell

Seth Unger and Jack C. Newell have conceived of a truly distinct way to put the 'public' back into public artwork, encapsulating the notion of "for the public, by the public." Their project is called The Wabash Lights and will be a kind of interactive 'canvas' for the public's creativity. Four years in the making, it is currently in the development stage and looking to raise money via a Kickstarter campaign to go forward with an approved beta test of the installation.

The duo's passion for this work, made more realistic by hundreds of supporters, makes The Wabash Lights the ultimate visual example of a mission to put democracy back into public art. Newell tells us, "Public art is usually funded by a few and created by one." He continues, "We thought, what if we actually created a piece of public art that was asked for by the public, paid for by the public and, most importantly, created by the public." Unger adds, "There is something about being in the Midwest and living in Chicago, something about the inclusiveness that's wrapped into the culture here." That notion of inclusiveness is at the very core of this project.

So how would The Wabash Lights be created by the public? With an App and a website, of course. The two explained that the public would go to the website or bring up the app, create a profile and then the user would be prompted by an interface to apply different structures to the lights. Unger and Newell see the lights as 'brushstrokes' and they told us there would be 150 to 200 possibilities in the beta stage. Users may tell the lights to go all red, green or to create a ripple effect with a white beam running through the color. Beyond this, users will be alerted when their creations will go live or a time and day can be scheduled . Although the designers have curatorial control, the public is needed to give them something to curate.

With a goal of $55,000 to make the beta test a reality, The Wabash Lights will lighten the day of Chicagoans and visitors alike and give Wabash its due as a major artery of the city with this engrossing project to complement its unique beauty.

The Kickstarter wraps up July 26th, and Unger and Newell say that any donation is deeply appreciated. Five dollars, one dollar or a thousand dollars are all equally important and appreciated because they want as many backers as possible. "We want to show that we're well supported by the public," explains Newell. Currently, with hundreds of backers and just over a week to go, it is becoming apparent it is a piece of art the public very much supports. To donate, head over to the Kickstarter page by the 26th.