adam frelin new york times

adam frelin new york times

By Adam Frelin. As lead artist on Breathing Lights, my job has been to create the light effect and oversee the maintenance of it in each building. Along with that, I am also in charge of documenting the installation. All of this requires that I spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods where the buildings are lit.

To be honest, my work as an artist rarely involves any community engagement component. In this regard Breathing Lights has thrown me in the deep end, and I’m so appreciative of it. I have had dozens and dozens of thoughtful, impromptu conversations with people living around our buildings.


They tell me things about their neighborhood:

“This street used to be fully occupied with stores and home owners.”

“It’s hard to live around all these vacant buildings.”

“I remember who used to live in that house.”


Sometimes they ask questions:

“What powers the lights?”

“What does it look like inside that house?”

“Is it for sale?”


And then there have been the cold and rainy nights, when something is not working right, and like a beam of light someone comes out of their home to tell me what they feel:

“You’ve done something wonderful for the region.”

“I love having one of your buildings across the street from me.”

“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”


As an artist, the greatest gift you can receive is having a stranger tell you that your art has touched them. Never have I felt more rewarded in my work than when I heard these compliments. I am deeply thankful for this experience.