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Broward Lighting Project

Lighting Project at Huizenga Plaza, Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Artist: Dan Corson


The Broward Lighting Project is one of the most recent projects to be commissioned as part of Broward County’s Public Art & Design Program. The project was the focus of Broward County’s celebrations to mark 30 years of commissioning artworks. The Broward Light Project is in fact two works – ‘Emerald Laser Lawn’ and ‘Luminous Conjunctions’, both introducing elements of lighting to an existing park area. The genesis of the project was a lengthy journey; the original rationale for the project being extended partway through the commissioning process.

Commissioning context: Broward County Public Art and Design Program

Broward County has sustained experience of commissioning public art – last year the County celebrated this long history through a series of events, including an exhibition providing a survey of 30 years of work. During this period Broward County has developed a significant commitment to public art practice and the programme contributes a key strand of cultural activity within the County.

The programme’s inception in 1976 was as an art in public places programme; part of a drive to establish a level of cultural activity in an area regarded as a destination for holiday makers. Alongside the growth of the Museum of Art and the Museum of Discovery and Science, the programme contributed to the early days of cultural growth in the County. The approach taken mirrored that of many commissioning programmes of the period and was similar to contemporary developments in the UK: the placing of sculptural objects in the public realm.

Design Broward

In the early 90s development work began on ‘Design Broward’, a five-year public art master plan. A year-long series of activities including a review of the work to date changed the focus of the programme. Integral to this was ‘Design Team Project’, through which multi-disciplinary teams – artists, architects, engineers and landscape architects – developed proposals for various sites around the County.

Artists’ workshops were also organised to introduce local artists and the design community to a more expansive view of contemporary arts practice. These activities set a new agenda for public art in the county ‘to shift the focus away from the traditional model of placing paintings and sculptures in public buildings toward a program which concentrates on enhancing urban design in Broward County through aesthetic amenities.’(‘Around the County in 208 Pieces of Art’; Broward County Board of County Commissioners).

Percent for art funding

The adoption of ‘Design Broward’ in 1994 raised aspirations for the programme and established a robust funding mechanism. The programme is supported through a policy, Ordinance #95-20, which was approved by the Broward County Commissioners in 1995. This allocates two percent of various capital construction budgets for artist design services including the creation, conservation, delivery and management of artworks. It was this combination of commitment to the development of arts practice in the public realm alongside issues of conservation, maintenance and outreach that has provided a basis for longevity of activity in the county.

An appraisal in 2002 valued the public art collection at 17.6 million dollars. The range includes 208 titled works, the majority of which are interior artworks, however there were 52 integrated or site specific artworks, and 36 exterior works. The programme is managed by the Broward Cultural Division’s Public Art and Design team which is comprised of 9 individuals and this is enhanced with the services of volunteers. Typically the program can generate between and 2 and 3 million dollars a year, of which 70% is spent on art, 15% on project support and 15 % on conservation.

Broward County’s programme is comparable in scale and reputation to those found in Seattle, San Jose and Los Angeles. It has received national recognition for its innovative and compelling art projects from Americans for the Arts, a national membership organisation that lobbies for continued development of the arts and advocates for the value of the arts across America.

The Broward Lighting Project

It was appropriate then that the project to mark the 30th year of celebrations of the public art programme aimed to expand the county’s scope of commissioning. The project was commissioned via an Invitational Call to Artists in 2005. This call provided an extremely broad project brief which was an invitation to artists to develop a design for a light-based artwork, with an option to include recommendations for a series of additional light-based artworks over a multi-year period.

The intention of the light work was to ‘reinforce Broward County’s unique Sense of Place, focus favourable community awareness on the County’s Public Art and Design Program, and celebrate public art as practiced on the highest level of artistic creativity and imagination’ (Quoted from the Invitational Call to Artists)

At the time of the invitational call a site for the artwork had not been identified – this would be done by the artist following research and interaction with County and Community representatives.

Timescale and shortlist

The timescale allowed four to five months following the appointment of the artist, for a schematic design to be developed. A design budget of up to $50,000 was allocated to this design development phase, with the allocation of $100,000 for implementation and fabrication should the design proposal be approved. Future projects were subject to additional finance being identified.

A shortlist of artists was made from the invitational call, and three of these individuals were interviewed by the selection panel. The appointment was therefore made on the artist’s past experience and quality of artistic practice. The selection panel included representatives from the Public Art and Design Committee, arts professionals and agency and community representatives.


Selection of Dan Corson

The contract for developing the schematic design was awarded to the artist Dan Corson. Corson is based in Seattle and is an artist working in the realms of public art, sculpture, theatrical design and arts planning. Bringing experience of theatrical event lighting, he had an impressive range of project experience and strong artistic vision. From this point the artist embarked on the process of establishing the context for the work. This meant working through site visits, meetings and discussions with third party agencies and community bodies.

The selection committee for the project gave some direction to the process, in that they wished to achieve a project with high visibility in terms of its physical location.

In the event a high level of negotiation was required to respond to interested parties and the artist and other members of the team spent a considerable amount of time meeting stakeholder groups interested in being part of the project. This was a consultative and research driven process, where the artist and Public Art and Design Committee were working to establish the exact location for the artwork.

The context for the work

Fort Lauderdale is on the southeast coast of Florida, centrally located between Miami and Palm Beach. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean and the New River with a network of inland waterways gives it a particular character. Historically the area was difficult to inhabit because of its geography. However over time, land reclamation and the position of the river brought settlers. Although its recent history has been as a tourism destination it has attracted a growing business centre in the Downtown area and now Fort Lauderdale is the largest of the towns in the Broward County area with 170,000 residents.


Development of schematic design

A period of ideas development followed as the artist worked through a number of proposals. The artist’s focus became centred on the Downtown area, and the significance of the river to this area.

Historically the river provided the physical manifestation of the intersection between native people and new settlers. The artistic concept was to create an extraordinary view of the river, and reinforce the historical and social significance.

The artist’s response was to propose an installation of marine lighting equipment beneath the surface to create a glowing yellow river. Despite receiving the approval of the idea by the selection panel the site tests proved that the river was in fact too cloudy to achieve a dramatic effect, because of sediment and tannic acid from the mangrove trees along the water’s edge,

This meant that Corson had to go back to the drawing board, but this time he had more feedback and direction that the panel were looking for a work with both a day and evening presence. He then worked on a proposal that wasn’t a response to a specific location but still had links to the particular qualities of Fort Lauderdale.

A new design

His starting point was the complex ecological significance of the mangrove trees; his proposal was for a giant mangrove root system that when installed would merge into an existing tree. Constructed with fibreglass, the piece would have lights pulsing through the ‘legs’, playing with imagery of arteries and veins and the connectedness of the natural environment with human life.

Having found approval with the panel the work now needed a location – and this proved difficult to establish. A site within a public park near the river was rejected because it was felt that a nearby restaurant would receive unfair commercial advantage by the work’s location.

A second solution was to ‘merge’ it with the fabric of a building at the University; however due to future expansion issues and setting possible precedence this didn’t receive a positive response from the building owners. The Downtown Development Association (DDA) suggested that a work could be located in a park near the art museum; however they would not want it to have a physical presence, and wanted light only.

Clearly the proposal on the table could not fulfil this brief. The complexity of finding the right location meant that the artist was asked to undertake another project proposal.

Reaching clarity on the brief

At the same time, new links were being forged between the County’s Public Art and Design Program team and the DDA and an opportunity arose in relation to an initiative to address security within Huizenga Plaza. The Board of Directors of the DDA had identified funding to improve lighting after concerns over serious crime in the area.

As a result the brief for Corson became clearer – the need to provide lighting to improve people’s feeling of security, combined with a work that could provide a celebration and spectacle for the 30-year celebration. The commissioners also asked that the work be conceived as a permanent project.

In terms of delivery a layer of complexity was added to the project with the partnership with the DDA. Although perceived and received by the public as one ‘event’ or experience, the project was actually delivered by two agencies with separate project management. The project comprises two parts – Luminous Conjunctions and the Emerald Laser Lawn.

Luminous Conjunctions and Emerald Laser Lawn

Luminous Conjunctions provides the enhanced level of security lighting required by the DDA. Utilising the trees as punctuations around the park, the work provides a base level of white light in the park at night. When triggered by passers-by, the lights installed in the trees flash to a colour for 10 seconds, before fading back to white.

The motion sensors are encased in PVC conduits and are mounted beneath the tree grates. They are programmed to detect movement along the pathway. In addition the lighting of the trees has an added layer of activation. A series of five medallions – stainless steel plates engraved with images drawn from alchemy which symbolize light and power – mark the location of sensors which when crossed play out a pre-programmed sequence through the trees. These sequences last between 3 and 7 minutes; each sequence is completed before another can be activated. One sensor in the centre of the park triggers a random pattern across all the trees.

The installation of LED light fittings meant that the running costs were kept to a minimum and these have been absorbed by the DDA. MPS Light & Sound were the contractors who delivered the work for DDA and this element of the light artwork is maintained by the DDA.

The Emerald Laser Lawn is a low level installation of green lasers, resulting in magical effects being played out across the grass, forming undulating waves and movement across the static surface of the park. This project adds to the visitor experience to the Plaza and also has interactive programming. The Emerald Laser Lawn is active between the hours of 7.30pm-1.00am and Luminous Conjunctions between 7.30pm – 7.30am.

Key Issues

This case study has presented a number of issues that can inform an approach to commissioning.

The project was a challenge to the formal commissioning processes where normally a site is identified by the commissioner or client prior to an artist becoming involved. Whilst an open brief presents an alternative option to commissioning it does demand a different structure in terms of management, consultation and approvals.

In essence each site demands its own delivery mechanism and has specific interest groups – with an open brief, these groups would not necessarily have been identified at the outset. However at some point these interests come into play and need to be accommodated. A process of design development that allows for exploration and discussion of ideas against a fluid context is inevitably going to require more management time and resources and a mechanism to monitor expenditure and partnerships. The positive aspects of an open brief can mean that new partnerships and opportunities are identified in order to enhance or add meaning to a project. This could mean engagement with more people, access to new sites, or enhanced budgets.

© Emma Larkinson, 2007

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