In recent years, Spartanburg, South Carolina has experienced rapid growth with the introduction of new hotels and apartment buildings, in addition to its multitude of independent businesses. Nestled in the upstate, the town that was once known only for its railroad lines is now stapled with much more. To commemorate the bright expansion of her developing town, Elizabeth Goddard, Executive Director of the Spartanburg Art Museum, decided to introduce some light of her own. Lighten Up Spartanburg is a public art series by the museum that scatters fiberglass lightbulb sculptures throughout the city. Each is uniquely altered by a different artist, the majority of them locals.
“The object of the lightbulb came up in discussion because Spartanburg is going through a tremendous period of growth,” Goddard explains, “and the lightbulb is a wonderful visual metaphor for a flash of insight, a great idea.”
The project originated in the spring of 2016 and was executed by Goddard and the two other curatorial staff members at the museum. She expresses that the greatest challenge was dividing the work between the three of them. Finding artists, locating sponsors, working with the city, and communicating with businesses were all on their agenda. To combat the challenges, they started small by launching three lightbulbs before hosting a public event to promote the project. Afterwards, they were able to obtain money from sponsorships and bring to life the other 25.
“It’s brought culture and a unity to the city,” explains Vivianne Carey, an artist with the project. Her lightbulb, “All Creatures Great and Small,” is a mosaic that includes 150 to 200 pounds of grout and mastic over the bulb. Carey’s work is meant to symbolize unity and togetherness and can be found in the courtyard outside of the Spartanburg Art Museum in front of the theater.
Another artist, Annette Giaco, admits that the project was beyond her comfort zone but was a “fantastic” experience. She is pleased with the concept of making art less intimidating and more accessible. Her lightbulb, “Mawu Sun-Light,” depicts the Dahomey deity, Mawu, who is said to be the mother of all life. The goddess is closely associated with the sun, and the warm acrylics that Giaco used for her artwork strongly reflect the idea. “Mawu Sun-Light” is located outside of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Elizabeth Goddard, summarizing the project’s message and Spartanburg as a whole, voices that “...small, regional towns can have big art.” A guide that includes interviews with the artists was created for learning more about the lightbulbs. To interact with the series, Facebook and Twitter users may use the hashtag #artbulbs.