Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What was Breathing Lights?
A: Breathing Lights was a temporary public art installation in October and November 2016 that illuminated the windows of hundreds of vacant homes in the cities of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY with a diffuse glow that mimicked the rhythm of human breathing. Buildings were lit nightly between 6 and 10pm.
The installation was supported by eight months of programming and events centered at three neighborhood hubs, one in each city – Albany Barn, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady, and the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. Programming and events were designed to give voice to children and adults living in communities with high rates of vacancy and offered resources for residents to buy and renovate vacant homes. Through youth media projects, building reclamation clinics, community arts presentations, gallery talks, policy discussions and more, Breathing Lights’ goal was to create an evocative, inclusive experience that transformed perceptions of vacant buildings and showcased an arts-based approach to stimulating local and regional revitalization.
Q: How were the buildings lit?
A: The windows of each house ran off one or two 6-volt batteries, which were installed inside a locked trunk bolted to the floor. Off-the-shelf LED light strips, chosen for color value and intensity, and their breathing “rate” were controlled by a simple Arduino board. The lights were diffused by plastic sheeting inside a wooden frame affixed to each window.
Q: Who organized Breathing Lights?
A: Breathing Lights was produced through a collaboration of public and private partners. Project leadership included Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Troy Mayor Patrick Madden. The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region served as the project’s fiscal agent and lead administrator. The Albany County Land Bank, the Capital Region Land Bank and the Troy Community Land Bank provided access to vacant buildings.
Albany Barn, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady, and the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy served as neighborhood hubs because of their track records of successful programming and their locations in communities with high levels of vacancy. Lighting R&D was conducted by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Siting and installation was led by TAP, Inc.
Q: How did you decide which buildings to light?
A: Most of the vacant buildings lit were owned by cities, counties or land banks. Breathing Light’s team worked closely with each city and land bank to understand and map their inventory and to choose buildings. The buildings lit represented less than 10% of the vacant buildings throughout the region at the time.
Q: Who funded this project?
A: Breathing Lights was supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through its Public Art Challenge initiative. Lead local funding was provided by GE, KeyBank, MVP Health Care, Neil & Jane Golub, Karen & Chet Opalka, the Bender Family Foundation, the Bender Scientific Fund, the Schenectady Foundation and the Standish Family Fund.
About Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge: In October 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies invited U.S. mayors of cities with 30,000 residents or more to collaborate with artists and arts organizations on developing innovative public art projects that engage residents and attract visitors. After receiving 237 applications that covered a wide range of local and civic issues, Bloomberg Philanthropies selected four winning projects as part of its Public Art Challenge – a new program designed to support temporary public art projects that celebrate creativity, enhance urban identity, encourage public-private partnerships, and drive economic development.