Boosting the Business District with Art

Aluminium panels as window-sized canvas are transforming blighted blocks.
14 March, 2017
Cities the world over share a common problem when it comes to urban blight.
What can be done with all of those vacant downtown storefronts that make neighborhoods feel too risky to visit, and make it harder to attract new dining, retail or other establishments to an area that desperately needs the investment?

With the shift toward more vibrant, walkable and sustainable communities, the economic development role of artists and creatives has become more visible. Their presence isn't just an amenity that adds to a community's character, but rather a quantifiable economic multiplier demonstrated in study after study.
Image: Under Main
So when American artist Marjorie Guyon walked around a struggling community in the state of Kentucky last fall, she realized that artwork might well be a solution to all the empty windows in vacant shops.

She partnered with the community's Downtown Lexington Management District (DLMD) to launch an "Illuminated City" project that uses the vacant spaces as showrooms, transforming them into galleries for temporary art installations. All of the large-dimension artwork is created on aluminium panels, used as an artistic canvas in the windows, and paired with dramatic lighting, mannequins and other staging.

Apart from the oversized aluminium artwork that is usually suspended from the ceilings, the other elements come from existing downtown businesses – like the stylish dresses from a local boutique.
Images: Kentucky
"The intent of this project is to bring light and beauty to the darkness, and call new attention to available downtown spaces, explains the DLMD. "As installations rotate, business owners within the district will have the opportunity to bring artwork into their spaces."

Property owners are invited to browse through the "aluminium catalog" to see art pieces available to display. All of the work is actually owned by the development group and can be moved around town.

Guyon, though, creates the art, and works extensively – if not exclusively – with the aluminium canvas. The project seems a perfect fit for her interest in creating high-end art pieces on aluminium panels.
"The goal of the commission was to show the viability and affordability of large scale dye-sublimation prints on aluminium," the artist explains. "Creating artwork at this size in traditional mediums would price many organizations out of public art projects. By creating small scale work which can then be reproduced at larger sizes with gallery quality materials, this project is a template for affordable high quality public art."

That's done using the dye-sublimation print process, which is a commonly used digital printing technology. The printing technique allows for the transfer of full color, high quality artwork – images, logos and other designs – to a range of materials. It's used for creating banners, or for transferring designs onto textiles (like T-shirts) or in creating novelty or personalized items like coffee mugs.
Image: Kenturky
It's often a preferred technique because it doesn't transfer the artwork to the top surface of the destination material, but rather into its substrates. That means it won't normally crack, peel or fade, and the end result delivers a nearly permanent, high-resolution full color print.

For the Lexington project, dye-sublimation print made it possible to choose artistic photographs that are important to the local community – reflecting its horse culture, for example – and transfer them digitally onto large scale aluminium panels for community display.
Banner image: Marjorie Guyon