OWTK PHILLY LOCAL: Final Weekend of Open Air and the Planetarium on the Parkway

I can’t believe we have missed this illuminating show and will not be able to participate in the finale either.  If you’re near Philly this weekend, make the effort to take the kiddos to see this stunning, interactive Open Air exhibit before it fades to black.

[press release]

Franklin Institute Chief Astronomer Derrick Pitts to host unique astronomy night
on the Ben Franklin Parkway, October 12; 
Open Air on view through Oct. 14

PHILADELPHIA — In celebration of Open Air’s final weekend, the Association for Public Art (APA) and The Franklin Institute (TFI) will present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for stargazers with Planetarium on the Parkway. This unique, interactive and FREE presentation, to be held at the Open Air project information center at Eakins Oval (24th Street and the Parkway) Friday, October 12, 8:30 p.m., will employ the technology of artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s aPA-commissioned world-premiere public art installation to highlight constellations in the night sky.

TFI Chief Astronomer Derrick Pitts will host the event, directing Open Air’s 24 powerful robotic searchlights into the sky to point out stellar objects above Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Though the project is typically controlled by individual voices via a website (openairphilly.net) and iPhone app, Lozano-Hemmer has designed a special interface that will turn the control over to Pitts. This interface will use an iPad to move the lights and accurately pinpoint locations in the sky without the “parallax” line-of-sight problems that are typical of outdoor astronomy events. Planetarium on the Parkway is a free event, and amateur astronomers are welcome to bring their telescopes. Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, one of the nation’s oldest astronomy clubs, will also have two large telescopes on hand for viewers to gaze through.

In addition, select community groups will kick off each of the final nights of Open Air: Art Sanctuary (Oct. 12), Neighborhood Night (Oct. 13) and DesignPhiladelphia (Oct. 14).

Since Open Air’s Opening Night Celebration on Sept. 20, which brought more than 3,000 visitors to the Parkway, the project’s app has been downloaded more than 6,500 times, and its accompanying website has received over 56,600 unique visitors from 91 countries and over 2 million hits. So far, more than 4,500 messages have been recorded, including 23 marriage proposals and messages in 16 different languages, giving Open Air 20-plus hours of material to be translated into unique light patterns.

Addressing the astronomy community’s concerns about Open Air’s environmental impact, Pitts says Planetarium on the Parkway is a “teachable moment”: “To me, [the searchlights] look like the laser pointers we all use at star parties to point out astronomical objects,” Pitts says. “Why not use the lights for this purpose in the open air — a live planetarium show on the Parkway where the lights are used to point out what can be seen, and illustrate how the wrong kind of lighting destroys our ability to see, share and enjoy the natural beauty of a light-pollution-free night sky?”

Adds Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Association for Public Art, “Open Air has presented this rare opportunity to bring art and science together in an unexpected collaboration.”

Lozano-Hemmer has successfully staged projects with interactive lights in cities all over the world, including two collaborations with NASA. Open Air, whose lateral light pollution is smaller than any street light, is a community-minded project intended to bring people together for shared experiences, and increase civic engagement by creating a platform for individuals and community groups to be heard. Open Air is on view nightly from 8 to 11 p.m. through Oct. 14. For more information, visit associationforpublicart.org and openairphilly.net.

*Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Open Air”. Commissioned by the Association for Public Art, Philadelphia, 2012. Photo by: James Ewing

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