Opinion: Why art festivals like Spectra are essential to local communities

Tuesday 06 February 2024

Sally Reaper, Director Look Again at Gray's
As Aberdeen's spectacular festival of light, Spectra, gets ready to open, Look Again director, Sally Reaper, highlights how the festival is transformative for communities...

Imagine seeing the huge steel leopard sculpture in Marischal Square come to life and walk past you down the street.

That dream will become an augmented reality during Spectra this year as visitors use their phones to bring 3D digital artwork to life. People will be able to scan a QR code and instantly see artwork come to life.

One of them is a rainbow coming out the ground and going over the top of you and another will be the beautiful leopard in Marischal Square being brought to life so it will walk down the street past you.

We always just assume that public art needs to be in real time in front of us in a tangible way but it’s really interesting to explore these modern technologies and use this platform to engage the public in a new and fresh way.

This new digital experience called Northern Lights has been designed and created by 10 local artists.

Commissioned by Look Again, the creative unit based at Gray’s School of Art at Robert Gordon University, the artists have all created digital pieces which will each illuminate Aberdeen city via people’s phones.

After scanning your phone at a target, within a few seconds a highly engaging and really uplifting artwork will pop up in the space where you’re standing which is absolutely amazing. So, people can take selfies with it or stand beside it for a photo. We can't wait to see how the public engages with it.

One of the exciting things about the new technology is that it could also be used in the future to boost tourism.

In an idealistic world, the next stage of this would be for us to create our own app so that when tourists come into the city they could engage with public artwork in this way. There are so many possibilities.

I just really want the public to appreciate it and to see, through this new medium, what is possible and how you can use technology in a really smart way.

As a proud Aberdonian, Spectra is all about celebrating the city’s unique cultural heritage.

Spectra has been transformative for the city, especially at a time of the year when it is dark, and that illumination of light really lifts the spirits of the city’s residents. It’s probably one of the most successful festivals in appealing to everyone.

From my perspective as an Aberdonian, I love the place I was born in and I work in so it’s about celebrating our cultural heritage and celebrating who we are, our unique identity and what it means to be Aberdonian.

I love watching the community come together, families, mums, dads, grannies, granddads and kids. It’s brilliant, so many people come out and travel across the city centre to engage with art in this way.

Spectra illustrates the important role that art and culture have on society. Culture is not a luxury, it’s such an inherent part to how we live. It impacts every part of our life including our mental wellbeing, creativity is woven in everything we do.

Engaging in creativity and cultural experiences absolutely changes your perspective and potentially changes how you view the world around you.

Commenting on the Northern Lights project, lead artist Craig Barrowman adds: "I’ve been working individually with the artists to take the core of their idea and their vision, to make it into an augmented reality experience, that is as user friendly as possible. It has been really good to get a group of artists learning new skills using digital production methods. Finding new ways for people to connect with art through the digital realm is the future.

"Humans are increasingly spending more time in the virtual space so I think it’s really important to  think about new ways to engage people with art. To see the city’s streets come alive with throngs of people during the festival is uplifting. It shows that there is an audience in this part of Scotland for good public art, it’s heartening.

"Aberdeen can be quite a quiet city sometimes so it’s really good to see the streets filled up in a positive way. In these times, art is always the first thing that is put on the chopping block when there’s difficult decisions being made about funding. It’s so important to remind people that art is an essential part of life and without it, it’s a pretty grim world.”

Spectra 2024 runs from 8 - 11 February.

Visit You Tube to watch a film featuring Northern Light's artist and Gray's Graduate in Residence, Kirsty Skea.

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