SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Downtown South Bend Inc. is leading an effort to shed new light on an often overlooked natural asset in the city: the St. Joseph River.
The not-for-profit has hired Rob Shakespeare, a professor of lighting design at Indiana University Bloomington, to design a light sculpture along the river downtown, between the Jefferson Boulevard and Colfax Avenue bridges.
Shakespeare, whose background is in theatrical lighting, has lit a number of spaces and objects over his 37-year career, including the IU Art Museum in Bloomington; NationsBank Plaza, now Bank of America Plaza, in Atlanta; and the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong.
The purpose of the sculpture he has been commissioned to design here would be to focus light on the dam and "Keepers of the Fire," the large metal sculpture rising out of the center of the dam by the American artist Mark di Suvero, the South Bend Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/UPCvrk ).
At the invitation of DTSB, Shakespeare conducted a site visit to South Bend in July. He met with potential stakeholders, including city officials, area business owners, developers, and leaders of local organizations, and studied the site from a number of angles.
"I walked the site several times, around both bridges, down the trails surrounding it. I approached it from whatever directions it could be approached," Shakespeare said by phone recently from his office in Bloomington.
Of his impression of the site, Shakespeare said, "It just seemed -- I don't want to sound too trite about this -- but it just seemed that there was this potentially beautiful, organic environment -- the flow of water, the walkways around it -- and it just seemed so underutilized or unfocused."
The product of that visit and subsequent conversations with DTSB and other stakeholders, "Bringing the River to Light" envisions two interactive light pillars on opposite sides of the river, on the island behind Century Center and at Seitz Park, near the headwaters of the East Race.
It also envisions accent lighting on the Jefferson Boulevard Bridge, both on and under the bridge's four arches.
"They could be two complementary structures, perhaps, or they could be mirror images of one another," Aaron Perri, executive director of DTSB, mused recently about the final design of the two pillars. "Maybe one's a circle and one's a triangle ... and perhaps they interact with one another."
The lights could change color depending on the occasion -- Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month or green for St. Patrick's Day -- or by touch, Perri said, such that by simply touching one of the two pillars a person could make the light change color.
Imagined Shakespeare, "Visitors on one side could interact and play with visitors on the other side."
As proposed, the lights would be powered by the river itself, by way of a hydroelectric turbine at the base of the dam at Seitz Park. The city installed the turbine in August. It hopes to begin using it to generate power this spring.
The sculpture would complement existing businesses and assets along the river, including Century Center, the Emporium and the new town homes and condos on the East Bank, and bring new energy to the riverfront and downtown in general, Perri said.
It would also provide "a way to tie both banks of the river together in an interesting way," Shakespeare said, so that downtown and the East Bank do not feel so isolated from one another.
As an added bonus, the sculpture would improve public safety along the riverwalk by acting as an additional source of light in the area, Perri said.
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