Hoosic River to Become the Light Fantastic

By Jen ThomasiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS – It's not the Eagle Street Beach Party. Or the Fall Foliage Festival. Or even the Mayor's Downtown Celebration.

Yet. But the organizers of the Hoosic River Lights Project, along with Mayor John Barrett III, know that their spring event has the potential to be just as great as the city's other annual mainstays.

"What we're trying to do here is something crazy," said Barrett.

In collaboration with artist Ralph Brill, owner of Brill Gallery, and students in the lighting workshop class at Rensselaer (N.Y.) Polytechnic Institute, the city will light up the Hoosic River on April 26.

Using various pieces of light artwork and sculpture, artists from around the world will come together to create unique light displays in the concrete channels that house the river.
"The idea here is to create an event that will stimulate interest and enthusiasm and the best way to do that is with light sculpture," said Brill at a Friday press conference in the City Council chambers.

Brill, whose gallery in the Eclipse Mill runs alongside the river, came up with the idea for the Hoosic River Lights Project two years ago after searching for a way to rediscover what he calls "the lost river."

river art
An artist's rendition of 'River Revival,' a light sculpture RPI students plan to install on the Hoosic River near Northern Berkshire District Court.

"The Hoosic was the life of this mill town … and the whole notion of the river in Adams and North Adams has disappeared from our minds," said Brill, pointing out that local tourist maps fail to note the river in the city at all. "We drive right over it and it looks like nothing but concrete chutes."

The river was walled in more than a half century ago in a massive public works project designed to the spare the city from its frequent flooding.

Nine students at RPI worked together to create their portion of the project, a prototype that will fill a 100-foot space between the Holden Street bridge and Northern Berkshire District Court.

Titled "River Revival," artwork will consist of red and blue lights aimed up at a tangle of wire sculpture, a winding piece of fiberoptic cable lit with blue lights and hundreds of yards of white fabric.

The art "juxtaposes artistic and creative elements into a piece that speaks to the beauty and form of the Hoosic River," said Leora Radetsy, a doctorate candidate at RPI and one of the students in the workshop.

The brainchild of fellow student Justin Hoin, a Troy, N.Y., native and graduate student in the architecture program at RPI, "River Revival" follows a theme of bridges, stones and the sunset.

"The concept of the fabric was inspired by the industrial architecture of the city. The skyline, composed of steeples and mills and the mountain behind, had a quality about it, especially right along the river," explained Hoin. "There's just this unique blending of nature and industry and history all at the same time."

The sculptures, Hoin said, represent a sense of losing nature, an idea that stems from the concrete walls that hold the river in.

The RPI project will be just one of the installations for the $10,000 spring event; artists from Los Angeles, New York City and Japan are also expected to participate.

"There's not that many opportunities in the U.S. to show light art," said Brill, with images of similar displays in Berlin and Japan projected on the wall behind him.

The organizers hope this inaugural year will pave the way for future lights projects, ones that will grow to include a festival type atmosphere with vendors and other activities planned.

The reason we're hoping this will become a large community event is a large number of light art installations around the world have brought communities together," said Tracy Meyer, an RPI student.

The Porches Inn is the prime sponsor for this event, said Barrett, but $6,000 more still needs to be raised. The mayor named the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and McCann Technical School as potential collaborators.

The organizers are also seeking volunteers to not only help construct the art but also to help the show run without a hitch.

"We're hoping that thousands of people will show up," said Brill.

"Hopefully, this will take us to the next level," said Barrett. "It's no different than our beach party, our fall festival or our food festival. It's another amenity to the area. No one in this room knows where this is going to be going or how successful it will be but we want people to look at the river differently."

"We want to take something that's there – and this has been our philosophy – and make it into something useful," added Barrett, who also said that he views the event as an economic development project.

For Hoin, he hopes the project will also have an emotional impact on those who come to witness the birth of the Hoosic River Lights Project.

"It exposes the richness and mystery and beauty of the river and the Berkshires," he said.

The event will take place on Saturday, April 26, from dusk until 11. The rain date is the following day. For more information, contact Brill at 1-800-294-2811.

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