Until recently, the Soquel Avenue bridge over the San Lorenzo River had no conceivable connection with Wrestlemania, Coachella or Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
But thanks to the upcoming Ebb and Flow River Arts Festival, the modest Soquel Avenue bridge joins a list of platforms on which the technologists at Visual Endeavors practice their art.
Visual Endeavors is a Santa Cruz-based tech start-up that designs lighting for live music concerts, dance shows and other spectacles, including the over-the-top performances of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE). On June 1, the two artists at Visual Endeavors—Aron Altmark and Rachel Stoll—will mount an installation on the bridge that connects downtown Santa Cruz to Ocean Street. It will essentially be a LED light show above the bridge, designed to both dazzle with aesthetic pleasure and to educate with data visualization on the health of the river.
Ebb and Flow is a two-day arts festival that celebrates Santa Cruz’s relationship with the San Lorenzo River, launched in 2015 and administered by Arts Council Santa Cruz County. This year, the festival takes place June 1 and 2 with a First Friday kick-off, a procession along the river, a dance party, and other events. But the legacy of the festival will be the lighting display on the bridge, which is expected to be up for months after Ebb and Flow has ebbed.
Visual Endeavors began in Southern California, but in 2016, the company’s founder Altmark and his creative partner Stoll were both looking to get out of L.A. Stoll, a native Angeleno, had always had fond memories of visiting Northern California. “Aron and I both like mountain biking,” she says. “We visited here, thinking about [relocating] and we kinda said to ourselves, ‘What if we just did it?’”
Before moving its base of operations to Santa Cruz, the company was doing well in L.A., serving a client list that included touring musical acts (many in iconic venues such as Red Rocks), big-ticket festivals, corporate events, dance performances and Wrestlemania. Ebb and Flow, however, is a change of pace for the company. Stoll says that the lighting display on the Soquel Avenue bridge is her company’s calling card to the community and the first effort in what the company hopes is an ongoing contribution to public art in Santa Cruz County.
“We’re very excited to see what possibilities come out of this,” she says.
Visual Endeavors is a vivid example of the growing presence of visual spectacle, especially when it comes to lighting, in live entertainment and other avenues of public life. At one time, razzle-dazzle lighting effects were considered an add-on at rock shows; now, they are expected to be an integral part of the package. Retail spaces, shopping districts and other urban public spaces are facing increasingly difficult competitive pressures and many are turning to lighting effects and other visual displays to attract more people.
Holographic technology, virtual reality, augmented reality (in which real spaces are overlaid with digital effects through a device), lighting effects made possible by inexpensive LEDs and increasingly sophisticated software—are all part of a barely imaginable future that could transform public spaces as profoundly as digital effects have transformed the online world.
“There is so much growth in so many areas,” says Stoll. “That’s what’s so exciting about where we are now. The technology is always changing. There’s always a new product, a new programming advancement. The question now is, does the market want it?” Referencing Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi epic that envisioned a world beyond computer screens, Stoll says, “Are we going to be living in a Minority Report world?”
Along with the lighting display on the Soquel Avenue bridge, Visual Endeavors will also present an interactive art show at the Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center, through the month of June. The gallery show will include an art piece featuring imagery of the bridge display that can be altered through interactive engagement with the viewer, along with a sculpture and a mixed-media piece that uses recycled material and lighting technology. All of this bleeding-edge tech will be put to use to a very low-tech purpose: to connect a public place to the natural world from which it springs.
“It will be such a different world in 10 years,” says Stoll. “Will we have another renaissance of public spaces? How do we redesign spaces in terms of urban planning? What’s our current philosophy about these connective spaces? How do we create places oriented around people?”
Ebb and Flow River Arts Festival 2018
Friday, June 1: First Friday artmaking and live performances at Abbott Square, Santa Cruz, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Procession to the river with the Post Street Rhythm Peddlers, 8:50 p.m. Unveiling of public art on the Soquel Avenue bridge and dance party at the river, 9:20-11 p.m.
Saturday, June 2: March to the River, participatory one-mile march for all ages, costumes of river wildlife encouraged, noon. Celebration with food trucks, artmaking and live performance by Bandaloop and others, Tannery Arts Center, 12:30-4 p.m.
More info: ebbandflowfest.org.