Your Friendly, Neighborhood Light City

Take a virtual tour of Neighborhood Lights Hampden.

While Light City illuminated the downtown Inner Harbor, tucked away from all of the hullabaloo in the northwest corner of the city, the ever quirky neighborhood of Hampden held its own version of events.  Strolling along 36th street affectionately still known as “The Avenue” past sunset, storefronts are lit up from darkness in favor of colorful lights.  In the middle of the stretch, occupying the recently vacated David’s Antiques on the Avenue, is a pop-up interactive audio-visual gallery, the centerpiece of Neighborhood Lights.

The large exterior windows are animated with cartoons via a creative improvisational rear projection from the inside.  The liveliness of the exterior is only rivaled by the activity within, which every night from 7-11 pm is teaming with people of all ages.  Inside all four walls have some sort of visual attraction, three walls (including the front) are illuminated with projections.   In the rear is a trippy set of stacked mirrors and lights.  Centerpiece to this exhibit is a sixteen-foot diameter geodesic dome, which people can enter and enjoy immersive 180 degree projections all above them.

Much beholden to its title, the exhibit really does have that neighborhood feel.  People strolled in and out casually, just passing along the street.  Of the three nights I stopped by, any number of children were running around on the loose inside, next to VIP Light City buses whose riders got their own personal tour of the exhibit.  Each day a different and local vendor was offering free samples of food and drink, the place seemed really casual.

Already in a tame environment, the light shows are relaxing and calm inducing.  On one wall projections of abstract and colorful neon lines cycles through, one the other, playful stop motion animations trace out.  Scattered on a table on the inside are kaleidoscope glasses that intensify the light experience, and when wearing.  Make the entire field of view vividly filled with dancing lights.  The geodesic dome allows visitors to walk inside, sit down and stare up at celestial like animations that dance across the hemisphere.  Most of the projections last a minute or two before repeating, ushering people along.

All of the projection pieces were made by the artist in residence, Diana Reichenbach.  Only made aware that she was the chosen artist in January, she had relatively little time to put her pieces together, but still managed to create parts of her vision.  Most notably she stated the most important part for her was that the gallery “acted as an extension of the neighborhood” – the colorful animations seen on the storefront were from sketches made by children at a local elementary school that she then took and animated, while the various storefronts on the avenue installed the lights in their storefronts.  While not as industrious as light city, the clearly family friendly vibes offered a welcoming environment for many patrons who could afford a short stroll rather than trekking all the way down town.

You can see Neighborhood Lights Hampden in the virtual tour above.

Aidan Crank is a Baltimore-based writer with interests in design, architecture, and aesthetics.

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