Art museum

‘Come Play’: Ackland Museum of Art invites visitors to interact with public art exhibit


by Michelle Cassel

Which is shiny and shiny, 800 square feet in dimension and 14 feet high, changes color from magenta to pink to aqua, and all the colors of the rainbow – depending on the light – that is found near the corner of South Columbia and Franklin streets and invites you to come and play?

The answer is PARK, the latest outdoor art exhibition on display at the Ackland Museum’s Terrace Gallery – designed to uniquely and interactively connect the museum to the street.

PARC was created by urban conga, an award-winning multidisciplinary design studio based in Brooklyn, New York. Its design was created by Urban Conga, in collaboration with Ackland Museum Associate Curator Lauren Turner.

PARC the interactive art exhibit at the Ackland Museum Terrace. The exhibit will be there until July 2024. Photo credit: Michelle Cassell.

“We’re very excited about PARC,” Turner said. “From the 10,000 UNC students who take classes each year at Ackland, to participants in our programs for families and children, to community groups and the countless passers-by, I hope everyone will take the time to explore and pARC and make it their own. ”

Seven-year-old Vera Albritton could barely contain her excitement as she danced on the platform behind a reflective panel recently and waved her pink unicorn through the air.

“This is very fun!” said Vera. “It’s like pink and purple at the same time – it’s magic.”

Ryan Swanson, founder of Urban Conga and lead designer of the pARC project, was with a filmmaker this past weekend as he chronicled a pARC-inspired movement workshop led by choreographer Killian Manning. The workshop featured musical guest Daniel Levin on cello.

Swanson, along with his wife and fellow architect Maeghann Coleman, are an integral part of the Urban Conga team working on the PARC project.

“We manufacture everything in-house,” Swanson said. “So we weld it, we put it together and we install it, which I think doesn’t happen often in public art production on this scale.”

“The big driver in that was that we had a series of discussions with the Acklands and Ackland stakeholders also with members of the community, to understand what this would become,” Swanson added.

A year ago, designers Swanson and Coleman visited Chapel Hill at the start of the art installation’s pre-production phase.

“I didn’t know what we were going to do, so we listened to conversations about what people wanted to see,” Swanson said. “The main problem was getting people into Ackland, was what we heard. How do you get people to cross that invisible barrier to enter the art institution and discover the incredible things that are happening inside? »

This detailed field research led Urban Conga to develop different concepts, which they presented to the community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro via an online community session to gather feedback from residents.

Urban Conga’s idea was to create an attraction for passers-by by creating a multi-programmable space as a platform for people to walk inside. The design’s arches mirror the museum’s doorways, Swanson said.

Coleman said she saw the project as a way to redefine the word “play”, so she worked to break down the barriers between viewers and the public art installation – creating designs that invite people to interact with art and with each other for the greater purpose of building community.

The programmable space works based on how sunlight hits it at any given time of day. Color changes are based on how this is reflected. Viewers will see a series of colors displayed – from oranges to pinks to purples – which creates an interactive effect on the viewer.

Viewers will feel a backlight hitting the screen at night. The designers of the installation used a series of four different colored lights to create a trail of colors. On one side, observers will see the shadow. On the other side, passers-by may begin to see this color-mixing color streak. When observers pixelate from behind and move their arms, they can see these colors merging.

“It’s made from aluminum and then powder coated,” Swanson explained. “We usually try to use recyclable materials, aluminum, and then we use the recyclable polycarbonate panels for the three different panels. And then there’s a film coating that allows that color-changing effect to produce.

Urban Conga founder and designer Ryan Swanson with his interactive art exhibit to explore at the Ackland Museum Terrace by July 2024. Photo credit: Michelle Cassell.

The screen was installed in a day, Swanson said, or six hours to be precise. They brought it in modular pieces. Swanson and two others assembled the parts.

“That’s another big thing with our work is that we kind of developed it as a kit of parts,” he said.

The university poured all the concrete foundations before they arrived, he added.

The Urban Conga studio is part of Swanson’s thesis at the school of architecture.

“During my thesis, I was less interested in building design and more interested in how people use the spaces around buildings,” he said. “And at the time, I was living in Tampa, Florida, and it was a very nine-to-five city with a lot of underutilized spaces that were there, these in-between spaces that weren’t being used.”

With this inspiration, Swanson said he pondered the question: how do we activate these spaces through temporary installations? This is where the idea of ​​the urban conga blossomed.

“At that time, ‘game’ was not part of the vocabulary,” he says. “It was more like, how do I create these cool facilities? We were broke middle school kids. How do I put this thing out there that allows activation, but we don’t have a lot of money?”

According to Swanson, he and his collaborators at Urban Conga created interactive projections on buildings, and they began to see the relationships associated with the concept of “play”.

“That’s when I imagined the power of ‘play’ and bringing people together,” he said.

Swanson and his highly successful Urban Conga team tour with international exposure and have projects in Pittsburgh, Sarasota, Florida, upstate New York, Albany and Indianapolis.

pARC will be on display at the Terrace Gallery of the Ackland Museum until July 7, 2024. Check for ongoing information on events and exhibitions.