The Wabash Corridor, Illuminated

The Wabash corridor—the stretch of Wabash between State Street and Millennium Park—is a section of the Loop tourists pass by on their way from the Bean to the historic Marshall Field’s.  It’s where nine-to-fivers wait for the Brown Line home.  It is an area that’s infrequently, if ever, seen as a destination itself.

The “highly customizable” Wabash Lights will run the length
of the El tracks along the Wabash corridor.
But filmmaker Jack C. Newell and designer Seth Unger aim to change that.  The collaborators are behind the proposed Wabash Lights, a public art project that will transform the El tracks into a light display.  Using the LED technology that lights up Atlantic City casinos, Unger and Newell see the project as an embodiment of Wabash as the “people’s corridor.”  Or, as Unger puts it later: “Wabash is there.  It’s been there.  We’re just—no pun intended—shining a light on it.”
From start to finish, the installation will be a collaborative project, one that invites Chicagoans to participate.  A Kickstarter, to be launched in early 2015, will fund the project, and the lights themselves will be controlled through an interactive website that allows users to log in and customize the lights’ colors and patterns.
Wabash Lights also builds on a rich Chicago tradition of public architecture and design.  Both artists cite seeing Daley Plaza’s Chicago Picasso as children as a formative experience, and they further recognize the importance of sculptures like Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Chicago “district making.”
In many ways, the Wabash Lights take placemaking through public art one step further.  As Newell notes of the installation’s interactive component, “We’re going to be giving Chicagoans the opportunity to put themselves in the role of artist.” 

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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