Imagine what it would be like to see a light show and hear music every time someone walked through an alley.
This is the vision of artist Alex Beim in trying to transform a slice of downtown Vancouver.
FIELD is a public art installation envisioned for Ackery's Alley, which runs behind the Orpheum Theatre. It's being advanced through a Kickstarter campaign by a group called More Awesome Now, which includes the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and HCMA Architecture + Design.
The project involves putting down new pavement, burying hydro cable lines underneath a layer of concrete, and cleaning up and decorating the walls with an oscillating wave pattern that nods to the energy of Vancouver's entertainment district. A complex arrangement of lasers, sound devices, and light emitters that respond to visitors' movements will also be installed.
"As people move their bodies around or throw up their arms [in the alleyway], they'll hear a harmonic pitch that'll change tones and light colours that'll change," Mark Busse, director of HCMA's experimental TILT Curiosity Labs and member of More Awesome Now, explains by phone. "The laneway would basically become an interactive, full-scale human musical intrustment."
The art installation would be permanent and operate 24 hours a day, says Busse. It would also play host to recitals and events conducted by Vancouver Civic Theatres, the civic body that operates the Orpheum and other local performing-art venues. At the time of writing, the campaign has reached $16,826 toward its goal of $35,000.
Busse is hoping the Kickstarter exceeds its target to guarantee both the revitalization of Ackery's Alley and the installation of the sound and light devices. He explains that the More Awesome Now team opted to launch a crowdfunding campaign to avoid corporate sponsorships while encouraging a sense of community and ownership among Vancouverites.
“We really want this to be ours,” he says. “So when people show up, they can say, ‘We paid for this. We funded this. This is ours.’ ”
A nonprofit collective, More Awesome Now was formed when Busse and his TILT colleagues approached the DVBIA in 2016 with an interest in developing more public-gathering spaces in the downtown core. The meeting came at an opportune moment as the DVBIA had advanced the Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver visioning process a year earlier. A survey at that time indicated a public desire to liven up alleys with shops and galleries.
For its first project, the group successfully reimagined an alleyway south of West Hastings between Granville and Seymour Streets into what's now known as Alley Oop. Made over with bright pink, purple, and yellow paint and outfitted with a basketball hoop, the laneway recently played host to Vancouver Design Week's opening party. That undertaking was funded solely by More Awesome Now, the City of Vancouver, and various businesses situated in the alley.
Named after Ivan Ackery, one of Vancouver's most famous impresarios, Ackery's Alley was chosen as the next site for an activated alleyway because of its storied and largely unsung past. “It was a very interesting period of time in Vancouver’s history, where Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe would be smoking cigarettes and drinking wine in that laneway, which is fascinating to us,” explains Busse. “So we thought, ‘That really deserves to be talked about. No one really knows what Ackery’s Alley is.’ ”
Should the transformation of Ackery's Alley prove successful, More Awesome Now will also work to redevelop the laneway on Thurlow Street between Alberni and Robson Streets. Busse hopes that residents will band together to create more vibrant, active, and engaging sites in the city.
"A third of the city’s downtown core is empty, unused public domain," he says. "Let’s get creative and find ways to light it up."
The FIELD in Ackery’s Alley Kickstarter campaign is accepting backers until July 12.