The word “blink” is a simple, straightforward term meaning to shut and open your eyes quickly. But it has numerous connotations: a momentary gleam of light, a flash, a flicker, a sparkle, a glimmer or a shimmer. It will take on added meaning this week during a new, free and attention-grabbing four-day Cincinnati event that will cost $3 million to stage.
In fact, BLINK — spanning 20 downtown and Over-the-Rhine blocks — will be one of the largest, most innovative light and art events in the nation, featuring large-scale projection mapping — familiar to Cincinnatians who attended the wildly popular Lumenocity event produced in Washington Park from 2013-2015 — plus light-based sculptures and installations, murals, interactive art and performances.
During four fantastical evenings (Thursday through Sunday), there will be things to behold as far as the eye can see. Anyone venturing downtown will find BLINK’s 22 spectacular projections along the 3.6-mile Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar route. The projection-mapped sites will serve as beacons, leading visitors from one display to another.
“There’s never a point when you won’t see the next thing in front of you. As you walk or ride, you’ll always know where to go next,” says Dan Reynolds, a partner in Brave Berlin, the creative event and media production company that has overseen the creation of those light projections on numerous iconic buildings.
More than 100 events have been strategically placed adjacent to the projection-mapped sites. While the light projections have been developed locally, BLINK’s creative team traveled to quite a few other “light festivals” around the world to identify installations, attractions and performances they wanted to include — and then invited their originators. Examples of those experiences and installations include:
- “Impulse” — Interactive, acoustic and illuminated seesaws that respond and transform when in motion. Located on the Freedom Center Lawn and created by Lateral Office from Toronto, they’ve been an audience favorite at international light festivals.
- “Architects of Air” — A pneumatic series of dazzling mazes, winding paths and soaring domes that will fill the Civic Lawn at Washington Park. Half the size of a soccer field, this inflated “luminarium” contains light the same way an aquarium contains water; like a bouncy house full of subtle and saturated color. Designed by Alan Parkinson, who is based in France and England, this is BLINK’s only ticketed attraction; admission is $5. Open 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
- “Charlie the Peacock” — With steel plumes that open and close, colored by individually controlled LED lights, “Charlie the Peacock” is 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall. He’s manipulated in real time and set to music. Designed by Tim Scofield, Kyle Miller and Steve Dalnekoff of Baltimore, he’ll be installed at Rookwood Pottery (1920 Race St., north of Findlay Market).
- “The World’s Largest Mobile Disco Ball” — From Louisville, this piece is 11 feet in diameter, contains nearly 1,000 mirrors and weighs three-quarters of a ton. It will be installed at 15th and Pleasant streets, just north of Washington Park.
- “The Pool” — An interactive work that’s traveled the world. Visitors step on pads that bring light and color to life. By leaping from one pad to another, multiple visitors can create collaborative movement. Created by New York City-based Jen Lewin, it will be in Washington Park.
- “The Light Ship” — Forealism Tribe DJs, hailing from “Another Dimension” but currently based in Hebron, Ky., will stage a projection-mapped dance party at 1674 Central Parkway. Constructed from recycled Plexiglas mirrored cuboids, the “ship” presents an otherworldly groove.
- “Kinetic Kauchii DekoSofa” — A pedal-powered, three person-mobile couch with a fully furnished coffee table, chandeliers and LED lights, plus a soundscape tailored to BLINK. Created by Baltimore’s Formstone Castle Collective, it will roam between several parking lots.
Music is also never far off at BLINK. Nearly 30 artists will perform everything from African dance to EDM and Indie Rock continuously on six stages across the various zones.
BLINK is the product of imaginative people from several Cincinnati-based creative organizations — Agar, ArtWorks and Brave Berlin — with financial support from the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and numerous other sponsors, plus promotional and event management support from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
Andrew Salzbrun of Agar, an agency that leverages brand activation using events and digital platforms, called BLINK a gift to the city. Marie Krulewitch-Browne from ArtWorks, a nonprofit known for its citywide mural program, compared the event to a megaphone or a springboard.
“We are amplifying what’s already here,” she says. “This is a shout-out to the world that we’re doing amazing things in Cincinnati. It’s a platform for our creative talent, an opportunity to flex their artistic muscle and have an audience.”
ArtWorks has been promoting Cincinnati’s reputation as a burgeoning creative artistic community for more than 20 years, with singular expertise in community engagement using public art projects and passionate volunteers. They’ll be front and center at BLINK’s inaugural Future City Spectacular parade Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Parade director Pam Kravetz, a prominent (and zany) local artist and art teacher, spent the summer recruiting marchers from neighborhoods and communities across the city.
More than 2,000 students, schools, arts groups, cultural groups, musicians and others will march through Over-the-Rhine from Findlay Market to Washington Park, mostly along Vine Street. Many of them will carry handmade lanterns that will be used to decorate scaffolding in Washington Park. The grand marshals will be Bootsy Collins and his wife/manager Patti.
Brave Berlin is best known locally for creating and producing Lumenocity, the event that brought the façade of Music Hall to life with projected animations. BLINK builds on that experience.
“This isn’t just about the event — it’s about Cincinnati,” says partner Steve McGowan. “When the lights go down, the city lights up. This is homegrown work from people around here.”
McGowan and Reynolds have brought together numerous Cincinnati-based creative agencies to craft the dazzling images projected all over town: DJ Toad, Kyle Ebersole, Epipheo, Foster and Flux, Iacono, Lightborne, We Have Become Vikings, Sean Van Praag and Agar.
With the numerous projection locations and equipment needs, an experienced and reliable tech support provider was essential. BLINK has one of the best in the world, PRG (Production Resource Group), a leader in entertainment and event production that’s supporting the band U2 during its current Joshua Tree tour. For BLINK, they’ll manage 27 media servers, 71 projectors, more than 300 lighting fixtures and use 10 lighting consoles to control multiple project sites along the streetcar route.
McGowan and Reynolds provided a foundation for BLINK with a “manifesto” that describes how caring communities define, create and shape themselves. “It’s the spirit we’re building BLINK on,” McGowan says.
Reynolds chimes in, “It’s about a community that cares and has deep love for the city. We wrote this as internal motivation for our team, something to keep us aligned. But the more we shared it, the more we realized it’s playing a bigger role.”
The manifesto reads: “The people of the future city are enlightened. In the blink of an eye, their hearts and minds glow with the radiance of transcendent knowing. Knowing the light of a thousand tomorrows of opportunity and hope. Knowing the light that shines from their hearts is all that was ever needed to stay the darkness of ignorance and poverty. Not here they said. Not in our shining city. They work and play and draw the light from one another until it outshines the sun. They light inside revealed in all. The only light that matters. Together they shine with celebration, laughter and labor shared for all the world to see, and in the blink of an eye, their radiance is undeniable.”
“What a ‘future city’ has is a cool factor,” McGowan says. “We’re all in this together, a sense of creative community that plays into it. There’s nothing like this in North America. Everyone, people of all ages, can find their way into it. The festival is one part of it, but we’re really shining a light on the city. Light is our metaphor for everything that we’re doing.”
The event will be spread over four zones. “They each have a little something different to offer,” McGowan says. “The Banks will be a little more recreational. The Central Business District is about tall skyscrapers and other buildings. Over-the-Rhine feels quaint, more like Greenwich Village, more residential. And Findlay Market is maybe a little fringe, in the best way possible.”
Impacting a Neighborhood
Agar, which also worked with ArtWorks and Brave Berlin on Lumenocity, is responsible for an intriguing art-related, neighborhood development project. Salzbrun and his colleagues spent time with a client in Miami, Fla. and became fascinated with Wynwood, a neighborhood that over two decades deteriorated from an industrial manufacturing district to a crime-ridden neighborhood and then became home to some of America’s most expensive real estate. The catalyst for the change was turning Wynwood itself into the largest outdoor art gallery of oversized murals in the world. The neighborhood inspired the Agar team to create a similar project on Pleasant Street in Over-the-Rhine from Washington Park to Findlay Market.
“We’ve put together a series of nine permanent murals,” Salzbrun says. “There’s been a lot of interest in that strip of blocks because of its economic divide north and south of Liberty Street.”
That street will be temporarily narrowed to make the connection more walkable. Seven full-scale murals, some four or five stories tall and many by international artists, will be on Pleasant Street. Artists from Belgium, Brazil, London, Spain, Lithuania, Mexico and Puerto Rico, as well as Cincinnati’s own Xylene Projects (whose art is visible on Know Theatre’s home in Over-the-Rhine) have been at work since late September to complete these impressive images.
“I’m excited to be using the urban landscape as a laboratory for future development and future place-making,” Salzbrun says. “Pleasant Street is a perfect place to make a large outdoor art gallery for our city’s core.”
The Inspiration and the Impact
The creative team is quick to give credit to Tim Maloney, the Haile Foundation head who was the driver behind Lumenocity. After that event’s three-year run, Maloney began asking what comes next. “We had three great, successful years,” he says. “But everything has a shelf life. We created a hunger for the art form by delivering it on a whole ’nother level.”
Lumenocity was inspired by Vivid, a successful light festival in Sydney, Australia, that’s captured international attention for two decades.
“We really studied the best in light programs all over the world — Sydney, of course, but also Berlin; two in Great Britain; Lyon, France; Montreal and more,” Maloney says.
Along the way, they met numerous international artists who have been recruited for BLINK. Brave Berlin’s Reynolds says a fortuitous convergence of ideas intersected when he and McGowan met with Maloney on the same day that Salzbrun and Agar proposed a street-art mural event near Findlay Market.
“They were talking to Tim and he said, ‘Let’s mash these two up. Maybe there’s something there,’ ” Reynolds says. “Then Artworks came in. They were like the glue, the more community engagement piece of it. That’s where the dream team was born.”
It was Maloney who envisioned using the streetcar as BLINK’s organizing focus. Reynolds frequently cites Maloney’s remark, “You don’t program the streetcar for the city. You program the city for the streetcar.”
The creative parties agree that the event would have been impossible without sponsors willing to take a leap of faith.
“Their confidence is based on our track record and Tim Maloney’s vision — especially their faith in the city and the creative culture that we have here,” Reynolds says. “Because of the visions being created and the moments that are going to happen, it will have a festive atmosphere. But at some point people are going to see that our great buildings and institutions are being lit up, and the people behind the art are going to be celebrated.”
The opportunity to showcase the city brought another significant player on board, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
“BLINK is an experience, not an event,” says chamber President and CEO Jill Meyer. “It will put Cincinnati on the map with this homegrown event. It’s a way to remind and educate people about all the great things that have made our city into what it is — architecture, festivals, creativity and great stories of collaboration. This is our chance to look at the progressive ‘future city’ that we actually are and shout it from the mountaintops.”
The biggest challenge will be taking it all in. One visit will likely not be enough. In fact, four days might not be enough. Don’t blink. You might miss something.
BLINK takes place Thursday-Sunday. Shows and exhibits begin at sundown and run until midnight. More info: blinkcincinnati.com.