'Breathing Lights' Illuminates Home-Vacancy Concerns

Artists, engineers, and public figures collaborate to push the Capital Region to its full potential

Vacant properties are a persistent issue in upstate New York. Without generating any tax and utility revenue, they exhaust the local communities’ resources and curb surrounding property values.

However, a new public art installation titled Breathing Lights, funded through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge (and backed by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, and Troy Mayor Patrick Madden, as well as sponsors like GE and KeyBank), aims to transform negative perceptions attached to the number of vacant buildings existing in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. Over the next eight months, Breathing Lights will present a series of community presentations, youth-media projects, policy discussions, and building-reclamation clinics.

On the surface, Breathing Lights, spearheaded by National Endowment for the Arts award-receipient Adam Frelin and Troy Architectural Program’s executive director Barbara Nelson, is a simple light show. Off-the-shelf LED light strips will adorn abandoned properties nightly in neighborhoods with high levels of vacancy from 6-10 pm though October and November, starting tonight in Troy. However, the project also doubles as a socially conscious platform for events spanning the next eight months, like StoryHarvest, an outdoor festival featuring poetry readings and music from local DJ collective Chill Smith, and Troy’s There Goes the Neighborhood Film Festival.

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Lead artist Adam Frelin at a recent Breathing Lights press event.

Most notably, free building-reclamation clinics will be available from November through March to help soon-to-be homebuyers make smart purchases. The underlying importance of the Breathing Lights lies in these workshops, reinforcing that the first step in fighting urban vacancies is providing up-to-date knowledge about financing, safe renovation, and code enforcement. 

Breathing Lights is a true collaboration, one that in both name and purpose sheds a light on the importance of being unified around a just cause. 


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