August 30-September 6, 2006

home | metro santa cruz index | news | santa cruz | news article

Charge of the Light Brigade

Is it art, advocacy or just a lighted runway so the aliens can take him back home? Kirby Scudder and his cohorts race to meet the deadline for a struggling Night-Light project.

By Laura Mattingly

'If it was just me running around turning on all those lights, that would be pure silliness," says infamous Santa Cruz artist Kirby Scudder, director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts, referring to his plan to illuminate three miles of Santa Cruz coast with spotlights as a vigil for peace on the evening of Sept. 21.

The potential power of the project, and also its hitch, is that Scudder needs 500 people to help him.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" asks Scudder after explaining the scope of his project, leaning over the table and looking me square in the eye.

At the first volunteer meeting open to the public last Wednesday, only 36 prospective volunteers showed up.

Crazy or not, it looks as though Scudder's in trouble.

"Unless each one of us goes out and gets five people, 10 people, 15 people, we'll all be missing out on the opportunity to see how great this can be," says Emily Reilly, a local artist and City Council person who's been very involved in the planning process.

"This project is about people," says Scudder of the event, which coincides with the International Day of Peace. "The lights are an important part of it. The mechanics that have been talked about up until this point have been specifically about the lights and the logistics. But this is really about bringing people together."

Scudder intends for friends and neighbors to shoot-the-shit about peace as they man the large spotlights.

"We need to be talking about peace," says Scudder. "It needs to be on everybody's mind all the time."

Scudder's already gotten a thumbs-up from Santa Cruz's Police and Fire departments for the large display, but because he anticipates the project to be quite a spectacle, he considers safety at the Night-Light event his personal business.

"I have a real commitment to the city to make sure this event is under control, that nothing happens that's a problem. There's a huge trust-factor here, they're trusting me with a lot of responsibility," says Scudder of the project, which was initially planned to extend over 40 miles of coastline. "It is a four-hour event and that's a lot of people. I probably won't stop being nervous until it's done and everything's put to bed."

Though the turnout to the first meeting was a little slim, those who did attend seemed enthusiastic about participating and recruiting others. Terry Ballantyne and Jenny Putney, Aptos residents employed at David Lee Real Estate, plan to get their whole company involved to sponsor spotlight number six on the trail. Scudder encourages others to do the same, for $80 a light, to fund this year's project and in anticipation of an even larger demonstration next year.

Ballantyne explains what interested her in the project. "For me, it was that it was pro something and not anti. I have a hard time with the concept of mixing anger and peace. It doesn't really work for me," says Ballantyne. "And he's the first person I've seen who's just pro-peace."

Ballantyne refers to Scudder's strict vision for a vigil free of bullhorns or political speeches.

Jean Davidson, who was also at the meeting on Wednesday, will be sharing her 80th birthday with the Night Light vigil, as she plans on taking her birthday party guests down to Westcliff to view the project.

"My house is up by Mission Street, but I hope my guests will walk or drive or skateboard to the event," says Davidson.

"It's gonna really be a powerful moment," says Scudder. "And it's the people behind the project."

For more information about the 'Night-Light' project, contact [email protected] or go to

Send a letter to the editor about this story.