General Astronomy > Light Pollution Topics

Open Air art project in Philadelphia

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Have you seen this? is an "art" project involving search lights in Philadelphia, PA.IDA just put out a statement on it, which I have copied below (Full disclosure, I am the Managing Director at IDA and I wrote the press release that is quoted.):Open Air Art Project Sends Wrong Message about Light at NightFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE27 August 2012. TUCSON, AZ – The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is extremely concerned about the Open Air art project that will use twenty-four “powerful searchlights” to “create unique, dynamic light formations in the sky”. The project, taking place in Philadelphia, PA from September 20 to October 14, will reportedly be visible up to ten miles away. It represents a tremendous waste of energy and is damaging to the nighttime environment. We hope that the Association for Public Art and artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer are aware of the numerous problems created by the frivolous use of artificial light at night. Improper artificial night lighting is a globally recognized problem. Bad lighting, which, sadly, is embodied by “Open Air”, affects far more than the ability to see the stars clearly. Bad lighting in all its forms is a waste of energy, natural resources, and money. Ecosystems are affected as navigation systems and other biological processes of nocturnal animals are disrupted. Artificial lighting affects the 24-hour cycle regulating sleep patterns known as the circadian rhythm in wildlife and humans. For these reasons, many communities work to control unnecessary light and have outright banned the use searchlights such as those that will be used for the Open Air project. Poorly used artificial light at night is one of the most conspicuous forms of energy waste worldwide. Open Air represents an excessive and unnecessary use of light and according to their website employs “the world’s brightest searchlights”. The project’s website further claims that “The lateral light pollution generated by the beams is much smaller than any street light.“ It is hard to reconcile that statement as the project will be visible up to ten miles away. It would seem that claim is only possible because most streets lights focus their light downward and not laterally or directly up into the sky. Beaming light into the sky can be fatal to birds, insects, and other nocturnal wildlife. The light creates a dangerous and detrimental attraction to area wildlife, especially to migratory birds. IDA appreciates that the project has consulted with Audubon Pennsylvania in an attempt to minimize the impact on birds, especially since it will be taking place during fall bird migration. The project perpetuates the myth that excessive and unnecessary light at night is acceptable. The International Dark-Sky Association would welcome the opportunity to provide information to the Association for Public Art and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on light pollution and how to become a positive force in the campaign to improve lighting worldwide.The project is described in detail on the Association for Public Art’s website at

Michael Burney:
I posted a note under "add a positive comment" thread that Dave Fuller started. My comment is pending approval. In this case, the positive comment goes against this idea.....


Adam Rice:
I have written emails to the Knights Foundation about this and have informed the astronomy clubs in my area. The content of my email is as follows, addressed specifically to president and CEO.

"Twenty-four searchlights, pointing up, polluting what little is left of the Philadelphia night skies for a 10 mile radius from its point of origin on the Parkway for almost four weeks, every night, is not an encouraging overture "to save public space to bring it back to the public," as Lozano-Hemmer claims for his Open Air Project.  His opinion of the minimum impact to migratory birds by working with the Pennsylvania Audubon Society is a mere token, the proverbial bone thrown to those concerned, and reveals a near complete lack of understanding of the growing body of scientific evidence in support of the preservation of the night sky, not just for its natural beauty, but for the disruption of biological processes of animals (including humans) and the waste of energy and natural resources.

It is an insult to all who appreciate the inspiring sweep of the night sky and to the significant efforts of those who are actively working to preserve it, such as the International Dark Sky Association and more locally, the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council which is presently engaged in preserving the night sky in areas not far from Philadelphia. The insult is extended to the townships and the counties surrounding Philadelphia that have adapted outdoor lighting ordinances or have initiated good lighting practices specifically for the aforementioned purposes. 

Lozano-Hemmer's insensitivity is inexcusable, despite his claims of minimal environmental impact and a professed appreciation of the night sky, his statement about the event, "... that messages will only be censored through crowd-sourcing on the website 'Moronic content is important because this is a public space....' " is justification only for the lowest forms of expression.

There were substantial financial resources dedicated to the Open Air Project. The human resources associated with it should utilize more imagination. The public benefits of the night sky can be better realized.  Reducing unnecessary artificial light within the city is the best place to start. There are organizations as mentioned earlier that can help inform about suppressing unnecessary light. Also, consider coordinating efforts with astronomy clubs, similar to what Dr. Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute pursues several times a year, but with greater endeavor and on a grander scale. Such programs help engage and inform the public in what the night sky offers to all, a light show that is free to everyone.

Please, in the future, consider the full impact of how donated dollars are spent."

Edit:  I sent a written letter via USPS with the same stated content this morning. I encourage all who visit this forum to do similarly. Paper mail gets read. Emails too often get lost in all the "noise" from spam and junk email. Send it to the attention of
The Chairman
c/o John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Suite 3300
200 South Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL. 33131-2349

Outstanding, Fred!Geoff

Santosh Wolf:
Their web site actually allows you to leave a comment about the project.  Needless to say, mine wasn't very supportive of the project.


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