Roundup: Philadelphia Gets All Lit Up With Luminary Displays Ranging From A Neon Show To LED Light Designs To A World Premiere Light Installation Over The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The gorgeous Philadelphia skyline is dazzlingly illuminated each night; the view from the Art Museum steps is unbeatable. (Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC)

Some spectacular art installations and displays are lighting up the night skies of Philadelphia.

The Association for Public Art will illuminate the entire Benjamin Franklin Parkway with Open Air, a monumental visual extravaganza that combines public art with interactive mobile technology; PECO will embark on the third year of its high-in-the-sky Art in the Air digital art initiative; and Longwood Gardens will wind down the run of its wow-the-crowds light installation by Bruce Munro.

Here’s how to see Philadelphia all lit up this fall and beyond:

Special Nighttime Exhibitions

LIGHT at Longwood Gardens: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square. Gorgeous Longwood Gardens adopts a surreally beautiful atmosphere as Light: Installations by Bruce Munro features tens of thousands of glowing “flower blooms,” “waterfalls” and floating “waterlilies” that transform the natural landscape into eco-systems unlike any that have been created before. Running through September 29, the exhibition brings nine unique installations to the gardens, lake, music room and conservatory.

Art in the Air: 2301 Market Street. September 7, 2012 marks the start of year three for Art in the Air, a digital initiative that showcases the work of mostly local artists high above the sky on the famed PECO Crown Lights at 2301 Market Street. The art and animation, which changes every two months, will be viewable on Friday nights from 7 p.m. through midnight, and the first exhibition will feature pieces created by international artists. During the daytime hours, walkers and commuters rely on the electronic display to see the time, temperature, news and notices of community-wide happenings.

***• Open Air: Headquartered at 24th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. From September 20 to October 14, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s just-for-Philadelphia Open Air concept positions 24 robotic searchlights along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to be controlled by passersby using a free mobile application that analyzes voice and location to move and the lights in a way that creates sculptures viewable from up to 10 miles away. Presented in conjunction with the Philadelphia Live Arts and DesignPhiladelphia festivals, Open Air operates from 8-11 p.m. nightly and allows interested participants to borrow cell phones from the project headquarters at Eakins Oval. Stay tuned for more information on this one!

Perhaps this fall's most anticipated light-related event is Open Air, a public art installation consisting of 24 powerful robotic searchlights placed along the Parkway to create enormous 3D light formations visible from 10 miles away. (Two simulated images of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Open Air installation from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, courtesy the Association for Public Art

Skybox 2424 Studios: 2424 E. York Street. Skybox 2424 Studios debuts its fall exhibition on October 20 with Symphony in D Minor, an interactive sound and visual installation by New York artists Chris Klapper and Patrick Gallagher. Suspended just within reach, the sculptural forms are activated by touch. Sensors relay recordings of thunder, lightning, wind and rain, and two video projectors display water droplets, slow moving clouds and a swirling torrent of clouds. Through December 2.

Keep reading for more awesome light displays in Philadelphia.

Permanent Displays

The Neon Museum of Philadelphia: 1218 Arch Street. The Neon Museum of Philadelphia brightens up the Center for Architecture, as well as bars, restaurants and public spaces throughout the city, with its little-known and privately owned tribute to the history of neon signs. The organization owns more than 100 signs that date back to before the 1950s.

Ben Franklin Bridge: The Benjamin Franklin Bridge’s visibility from 10 miles away and its proximity to myriad public gathering spaces in Philadelphia and major urban centers in New Jersey makes it a prime canvas for an LED row of lights that dots the bridge span on both sides and changes and moves depending on the season or the holiday. Sometimes the lights appear to “chase” the passing commuter trains that traverse the bridge, and other times they glow in varying colors — red, white and blue for Independence Day and green for a major Philadelphia Eagles playoff game, for example. Seven Schuylkill River bridges are also permanently illuminated — part of the legacy of the city’s Millennium Philadelphia celebration in 1999.

The Light installation at Longwood Gardens is nothing short of breathtaking. Catch it with a fireworks show this Saturday night, September 1. (Photo by Andrew Weiss Photography)

[Light at Longwood Gardens Photo by Andrew Weiss Photography]

Boathouse Row: 1 Boathouse Row. One of Philadelphia’s most memorable nighttime vistas is that of Boathouse Row, made up of a dozen sculling clubs that line the Schuylkill River behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2009, new full-color, energy-efficient LED light nodes were hung to showcase the intricate architectural details of the clubs. Now a drive or stroll along the river results in an eye-popping lighting marvel that normally glows white but can change to celebrate a holiday or civic celebration, a charity appeal or a significant professional sporting win.

Cira Centre: 2929 Market Street. West Philadelphia’s first office tower digitally programs its 1,500 LED lights to reflect city pride in major holidays, local events and sports teams. The Cira Centre’s 29 floors shine with light shows that may appear red for a Philadelphia Phillies’ championship win or pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin National Memorial: 222 N. 20th Street. As the scientist who discovered electricity, Ben Franklin would surely be proud of the three-minute multi-media presentation that envelops the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial statue at The Franklin Institute. At the top of each hour, the Benjamin Franklin Forever show, comprised of digital projections, theatrical lighting and audio effects, tells a deeper story about the man whose intellect and curiosity spawned so many discoveries and institutions.

Avenue of the Arts: The Avenue of the Arts (South Broad Street) is the first street in America to light multiple buildings in a coordinated display of sound and light. Using LED fixtures with an almost infinite selection of patterns and colors, Center City District illuminates the facades of a dozen historic buildings with programs that range from soothing seasonal palettes to exciting visual and audio shows. Also illuminated nightly on Broad Street: the City Hall clock and tower, topped by city founder William Penn. Another Avenue of the Arts lighting project in the works is a bold new “Promenade of Lights” design for North Broad Street that will consist of a 2.5-mile stretch of 29 light masts — each towering 55 feet in the air — lining the center of the street, from Spring Garden on the south to Norris Street on the north.

Chestnut Hill Friends: Coming Soon: Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting’s new eco-friendly space, opening in summer 2013, will feature a Skyspace conceived of and donated by internationally acclaimed contemporary artist James Turrell. When the Skyspace is open, visitors — both congregation members and the general public — will be encouraged to admire and reflect on the beauty of the changing sky above.


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  1. WOW…PHILLIE sure has gone and used it’s naturally inherited talent to show off the beauty of the city night lights and LONGWOOD GARDENS is just as lovely…all of my family has a naturally inherited talent to make the most out of their spot as DISPLAY ARTISTS….what a gorgeous way to present PHILLIE….GO FOR IT as an old and beautifully presented city in all of it’s GLORY……

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