Illuminating DowntownSan Jose, CA
The artist-led Illuminating Downtown Program is a project of San Jose Public Art that combines art, high-tech strategies and environmental sustainability to manifest San Jose’s goal of creating a Downtown that looks, feels and acts like the Capital of Silicon Valley.
ArtPlace spoke with Jennifer Easton, Sr. Project Manager for Illuminating Downtown, about some of the interesting experiences that have occurred during the development of this project.
ARTPLACE: What has been the best event or the most rewarding experience you have had during the course of your ArtPlace grant? Describe how this came about and why it was special. What lesson did you learn from this success?
There have been many rewarding experiences, and while no single one stands out – the experience of engaging the private sector has really helped us understand the value of this project in the greater San Jose community.
When we envisioned Illuminating Downtown, we thought we, as a City agency, would initiate a handful of pilot projects that would inspire others build on the idea and create their own projects to engage the public realm with light and technology. During our initial planning charrette of community leaders and design professionals, we learned that there was a real desire for a signature project for the downtown, in fact, several projects.
As the program evolved, it became clear that we couldn’t simply propose ideas for pilot projects and expect the private sector to come along. We had to engage the private sector early in order to create the desired community impact. This was a major change in our thinking.
Many California cities, including San Jose, have had to make significant adjustments in the wake of the loss of redevelopment agencies. In San Jose, the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) led a lot of our downtown urban design, establishing standards that others followed. Today, the private sector is realizing the opportunity to step up and contribute to the urban landscape – to the benefit of their tenants, employees and residents. They are thinking about creative placemaking. This is a healthy shift that builds on the seeds planted by the RDA and positions the private sector as leaders in the city’s urban evolution. While this growing awareness has slowed the implementation of our handful of pilot projects, we believe that, in the spirit of true creative placemaking, it has opened a lot of doors that will benefit the future of San Jose’s downtown for years to come.
So back to the collection of rewarding experiences mentioned above: engaging potential partners in the vision and process of Illuminating Downtown has been our most rewarding experience. As a public art program, we are constantly engaging with community, but the scope Illuminating Downtown has taken this engagement to a new level, requiring real financial commitments from people to value San Jose and their community. When a potential partner lights up following a presentation of the program, provides insightful feedback, and is interested in pursuing a partnership, these are the moments we have found so valuable. They show commitment to place and pride in making something special happen.
In the short-term it means that projects have taken more time to evolve than we originally hoped. It also means that our initial projects will be bigger with greater visual impact to the community than we first planned. And, in the long run, it means we have tapped into a zeitgeist that will continue forward beyond the initial implementation of this program.