Winner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge

Three Cities. One Region. Bright Idea.

In October and November 2016, nightly from 6pm – 10pm, Breathing Lights illuminated the windows of hundreds of vacant buildings in Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY. Warm light filled each window with a diffused glow that mimicked the gentle rhythm of human breathing. Concentrated in neighborhoods with high levels of vacancy, Breathing Lights transformed abandoned structures from pockets of shadows into places of warmth.

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“We have been working on this problem for 43 years… you put up some lights and everything changes.” –Land Bank leader, Troy, NY
Engaging the Entire Community

Breathing Lights included a thorough community engagement program, centered at neighborhood hubs in each city that were trusted and established community organizations. The engagement strategy was created to give voice to residents who live in the neighborhoods with the highest density of vacant buildings—a voice in what it is like to live among such vacancy and a voice in how to rebuild and shape their neighborhoods’ futures.

Event ArchiveThe Hubs

Neighborhood Ambassadors are residents that represent the neighborhoods of Breathing Lights.

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Youth media projects were developed to educate local young people in video, radio, interviewing, and scripting and storytelling.

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The Breathing Lights Arts Awards competition was created to commission a series of local artists’ projects related thematically to Breathing Lights to take place during the installation.

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“The project has brought hope that solutions are available and some people are taking it into their own hands.” –Community Member
What Did We Accomplish?

The Breathing Lights evaluation effort measured the project’s impact in three main areas:

Appreciation of public art in inducing positive social and economic change

Awareness of and actions to address urban blight

Community activation in response to economic development challenges.


The evaluation team, led by Dina Refki of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, conducted surveys, focus groups and interviews before, during, and after the exhibition to assess community perception and the project’s impact on the aforementioned focus areas.

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