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New Public Art Animates Entry into Charlotte’s West End

Charlotte, N.C. (March 15, 2012) -- “Passing Through Light,” a new work of public art using LED technology and located at the I-77 and West Trade Street underpass, is serving as a visual and dynamic gateway for vehicles and pedestrians as they enter and exit the city of Charlotte’s Historic West End.  The artwork was created by Austrian artist Erwin Redl.

The artwork consists of three sequences of light that slowly loops through a color gradient.  The sequences are five minutes. In the first sequence, the colors loop from midnight blue to white to yellow to maroon and back to midnight blue. The viewers experience the deep psychological impact of each single color.  The second sequence displays a segment of the color gradient along the bridge and slowly loops through the whole color cycle. The round spot lights on the slope show the complimentary color of the gradient. The viewers experience the physical draw between the colors visible simultaneously.  Throughout the third sequence the lights on the ceiling truss project an animated blue wave. The round spots lights and the slope cycle through yellow and white at the same tempo as the blue ceiling wave. The viewers experience the horizontal and static color shift within the gold-blue color scheme of Johnson C. Smith University.

“The utilitarian character of the bridge presented unexpected possibilities for people to encounter art without the often perceived emotional barrier when entering traditional art venues like museums or galleries,” said Redl.  “The fleeting moment of driving or walking through the installation becomes a transformative moment to open up our eyes and perceive our environment more intensely. Through the installation’s uplifting character, the visitors enjoy a brief moment of unencumbered pleasure.”

The public art project is also the first in the state to test the N.C. Department of Transportation’s new art on the right-of-way policy. The policy allows a systematic way for communities and local government to apply for an encroachment permit specifically to undertake public art projects that encroach on the NCDOT right-of-way.

“NCDOT’s first priority is to provide safe and efficient transportation facilities,” said Louis Mitchell, district engineer, with NCDOT.  “This new policy allows us to maintain that priority while incorporating a work of art that provides aesthetic and cultural benefits to the community.”

In addition to serving as a gateway to Charlotte’s west side, “Passing Through Light” is part of revitalization efforts along the Northwest Corridor.  Ronald Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) and Senator Malcolm Graham, who works as Carter’s special assistant, is leading economic development and revitalization efforts along the Northwest Corridor where the University resides.  JCSU is currently building Mosaic Village, a residential and retail development for students and the community along with art and dance studios.

In August 2009, Carter and leaders from the city’s planning, neighborhood development departments and the Arts & Science Council (ASC) walked from I-77 at West Trade Street to the University to assess efforts to remediate current conditions along West Trade Street.  Addressing the underpass was important to Carter.

“The underpass was dark, somewhat unsafe and unwelcoming to vehicular traffic and pedestrians entering the city to the east or west,” said Carter.  “Passing Through Light” provides a safe and positive experience to residents and visitors entering the west side to visit the University, businesses and neighborhoods.”

In October 2009, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Art Commission, managed by the ASC, endorsed the underpass as the priority location for the use of business corridor funds generated by the city’s one percent for art ordinance.  JCSU contributed funding through a portion of the West End project proceeds provided by the Wells Fargo Corporation and Charlotte City Council passed a resolution in support of the location in April 2011.  Redl, a Fulbright scholar and creator of public art using LED technology at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was commissioned in June.

“Building on Charlotte’s history of getting things done through public/private partnerships, we are proud to work with the University, commission Erwin to animate a public space and add this wonderful work of art to the city’s collection,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Art Commission Chair, Sabrina Brown.

The initiative is part of a growing trend among historically black colleges serving as engines of economic growth.  Hampton University in Virginia and Howard University in Washington, D.C. launched businesses in blighted neighborhoods and invested in neighborhood revitalization through improved housing.  North Carolina A&T bought property around campus to expand research programs.

To view an animation of the artwork, visit

Krista Terrell
Arts & Science Council

Sherri Belfield
Johnson C. Smith University


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