I’d be lying if I told you there’s a shortage of public art in Chicago, given the amount of artists continuously pushing the boundaries of design and function. Thus, it’s no surprise a marketing strategist and a filmmaker would successfully reach their Kickstarter goal for one of the brightest and most useful public art displays in Chicago history. The Wabash Lights are a long strip of colorful LED lights running the stretch of the elevated train tracks along Wabash Avenue in the Loop. The Kickstarter began in August 2015 and has since reached its $60,000 goal. The lights are not only meant to be an aesthetically pleasing addition, but the intended plan allows for Chicagoans to help program the sequence of lights for an interactive experience. The main goals of the Wabash Lights project are:
“Fostering a safer, well lit downtown, the promotion of Chicago as a global destination, beautification of the ‘L,’ broadening the profile and number of annual visitors to Chicago, attraction and retention of downtown businesses, and boosting civic pride.”
Phase one was implemented in January 2016, and a small strip of lights were installed and would be lit for the following six months. The rest of the project is still awaiting further funding before it can be seen to fruition.
Two seemingly dissimilar creatives started this incredible project. Jack C. Newell and Seth Unger, a filmmaker and creative strategist respectively, are the masterminds behind this unique art display. Newell describes himself as a public art enthusiast in addition to his title as a filmmaker, and “uses his background in film to inform his public art projects. His ability to use light and color to tell stories and illicit emotion from the audience is at the heart of his work in both film and in the public space.” Unger is a business creative—he solves problems in the marketing world. Yet, his prior experiences in theater give him the background to understand human connection and spatial compatibility, and his “collaborations have helped facilitate, design, and implement innovative brand, workplace, and creative strategy across diverse areas of focus.”
So what makes this project so creative? Well, the originality is the first and most obvious reason—there’s nothing like this in Chicago. But aside from that, it’s the functionality and problem solving aspect that elevates this project (literally). Nighttime Chicago can be dark and scary, so a little light and community involvement can go a long way. The extra step of allowing individuals to participate in the exhibit is something all too familiar to advertisers and marketers (ahem, Unger), who understand the benefits of consumer involvement. This project showcases efforts in artistic beauty from Newell’s expertise and insights into function and garnering awareness from Unger’s field to create something amazing in a seemingly separate realm of work. The collaborative nature of this project is what seals the deal on its status as “creative.”
Then what makes these two guys so creative? Simply put, it’s their passion for doing fun things. Both men are creative by profession—a filmmaker and a strategist need to be in order to find success. Yet, because this was a side project, outside of their realm of responsibility, they needed significant amounts of intrinsic motivation to provoke such creative thought and execution. According to Collins & Amabile, “creativity is motivated by the enjoyment and satisfaction that a person derives from engaging in the creative activity.” When you like what you’re doing, the ideas flow more freely. In addition, they write that “high levels of intrinsic motivation are particularly important when the emphasis is on novelty.” New ideas are inspired by insights that are of value to the individual who came up with them. Both Newell and Unger saw a problem and an opportunity, that using their respective expertise, they could solve for the hell of it.
Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity.New York: Cambridge University Press.