Public art project, Lighten Up Spartanburg, hopes to illuminate Spartanburg’s economic and cultural renaissance

Cathy Bagel of Bagel Fence, a light bulb sponsor; Elizabeth Goddard, executive director of SAM; George Nixon, board president of SAM; and Spartanburg artist Bailey Bailie. // Photograph provided by SAM.

A new public art project hopes to illuminate Spartanburg County’s economic and cultural renaissance.

Spartanburg Art Museum (SAM) has announced it will launch “Lighten Up Spartanburg” later this month.

The project entails the installation of 30 six-foot tall fiberglass light bulb sculptures across the community that have been painted, decorated or transformed in some way by local and regional artists.

“In the last decade or so, we’ve really seen a lot of businesses, city government and the (Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce) rally to make downtown an attractive and exciting place to be,” said Mat Duncan, curator of collections and community development coordinator for SAM. “In that spirit, we started thinking about how we could convey Spartanburg’s transition into the 21st century. This is the new Spartanburg. We see the light bulb as a representation of a new period of growth and innovation that is occurring across the community.”

Duncan said 28 businesses have provided financial support for the project. Those figures are still being finalized, but he said the investment is “significant.”

Lighten Up Spartanburg is separate from, but will complement “Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light,” another public art project funded by a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies that will include temporary art instillations at nine sites in 10 neighborhoods across the city.

Photograph provided by SAM.

“This also represents a transition and change that (SAM is) going through,” Duncan said. “We’ve changed focus from traditional art to more contemporary art—things that people can connect with today… We’re trying to become the kind of museum that Spartanburg wants and deserves.”

The first three completed bulbs will be introduced during a kickoff event on Sept. 29 at Indigo Hall.

Four artists commissioned for those bulbs, including Bailey Bailie, Page Davis, Ann Eickman, and Susan Floyd, will unveil their designs at the event.

Duncan said SAM is still seeking artists to work on the 27 remaining bulbs.

Photograph provided by SAM.

He said the installation of the bulbs will occur in March. SAM will develop an app that will basically be a digital walking tour of the bulb sites, complete with audio that explains each one in more detail.

A majority of the bulbs will be placed within downtown’s “cultural district,” which Duncan referred to as Morgan Square and surrounding areas that feature art galleries and other public art.

“It’s moving to see these symbols of the dynamic city Spartanburg is becoming at the center of the community,” said Elizabeth Goddard, executive director of SAM, in a statement. “The work we’ve done with Spartanburg neighborhoods as a part of our contribution to Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light really brought to our attention a desire and need for public art. Lighten Up Spartanburg is our answer to that need.”

Duncan said another layer to the project will be to encourage economic development and activity by attracting more visitors to downtown.

SAM officials referenced similar undertaking that was completed in 2015 by the city of Lincoln, Neb. A total of 51 six-foot fiberglass light bulb sculptures were decorated by local artists in celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Lighthouse, an afterschool program that offers academic support and recreational activities.

“It is another example of the really dynamic and talented arts community that we have in Spartanburg,” said Will Rothschild, a spokesman for the city of Spartanburg. “It’s a project that’s going to generate a lot of interest and talk, brighten up a lot of places, and get businesses and other places involved. We’re fortunate to have organizations like SAM to make it happen. It really is a bonus for us. We’re looking forward to seeing these installations go up.”


Launch event details:

-7-10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29 at Indigo Hall

-Cost is $75 for SAM members and $100 for non-members

-Tickets can be purchased at the museum or online

-Event will feature an open bar with a signature cocktail, live music

-Guest appearances from Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light artist Erwin Redl and Lighten Up Spartanburg artists Baile, Page Davis, Ann Eickman and Susan Floyd.

-Food provided by Sophie’s Choice catering,

-Community can engage with the project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via the hashtag #artbulbs.

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