Editor’s note: The following column is co-authored by the Mayors of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, New York.
New York’s Capital Region is rich in history and culture. Our cities of Albany, Schenectady and Troy have been landmarks since before the birth of our country. As time has progressed, our cities have come to appreciate the benefits of collaborating on innovative opportunities.
That spirit could not have been better exemplified than through the Breathing Lights public art project, which illuminated hundreds of properties across the three cities over the months of October and November. Made possible through a highly competitive grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, Breathing Lights represented not only the culmination of more than a year of planning and collaboration, but also a major victory of expression for our region.
The sharing of ideas behind this project was inspired by a mutual urban problem. The arrival and departure of industry over the past century has had significant impact on our region, including residential vacancy and the issues that come with it.
Breathing Lights directly addressed this issue by shining a light on abandoned buildings in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, which were concentrated in high-vacancy neighborhoods often facing multiple challenges. Breathing Lights drew attention to these buildings’ plight, but also to their potential as livable homes. Many are architecturally lovely and can be saved for new owners and reuse.
This display and its associated community events spurred a renewed conversation around the issues of vacancy in the Capital Region, and at the same time brought our cities together in new ways to share resources and seek solutions. Breathing Lights also demonstrated how public art can engage citizens, civic leaders, and have a significant impact on pressing issues.
We are deeply grateful for the dozens of incredible artists, cultural institutions, universities, and community-based organizations in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy that came together to ensure the success of this unique opportunity.
We encourage you to visit the Breathing Lights website at BreathingLights.com for more information on this transformational project and to be a part of the ongoing discussions this initiative highlighted.
Katherine Sheehan is the Mayor of Albany, NY.
Patrick Madden is the Mayor of Troy, NY.
Gary McCarthy is the Mayor of Schenectady, NY.