santa monica set to glow in the dark

September 22, 2010

The welcome signs posted at entrances to Santa Monica State Beach host a list of rules that must be observed while enjoying Los Angeles’ most beloved sandy stretch: No temporary enclosures, no percussion instruments, no audio devices after 10 p.m., no loitering under the pier. These are just a few of the many laws the famously strict city allowed to be broken for its inaugural run of Glow, a biennial dusk-till-dawn art festival that returns to Santa Monica this weekend.

The 2008 event, inspired by Paris’ popular Nuit Blanche, featured commissioned artworks that took over Santa Monica State Beach, the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park for a full night of interactivity meant to transform the by-day tourist hotspot into a free-for-all, pop-up playground-meets-museum.

In its first year, Glow featured site-specific works, such as pirate lullabies on the sand, moving trash mobiles hanging under the pier, audio-stimulated projections on a water-mist wall and an orchestral work performed from the baskets of the iconic ferris wheel.

Still, Glow’s well-meaning first attempt was not without its faults.

For nearly 12 hours — the event ran until 7 a.m. — the estimated 200,000 Angelenos that showed up expecting a large-scale city-organized event were instead met with overcrowded access points, inefficient signage, cancelled performances, botched electronics and overall mass confusion.

After battling Santa Monica’s already brutal parking situation to get into the event (the city said it only expected 25,000 visitors), many attendees complained that they did not know where to actually go to find the art, and when they did it was either experiencing technical difficulties or not mind-blowing enough to be worth the trek.

For these reasons, Glow’ first run could be considered a failure — a city’s botched attempt to create a signature cultural event — but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Though the overload of attendees in 2008 created unexpected chaos at what was supposed to be a low-key, interactive experience, it also proved that L.A. residents are ready to accept large-scale public interactive art as part of the city’s ever-shifting identity.

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