Rockford man is co-creator of top 10 ArtPrize entry receiving national media attention

by Cindy M. Cranmer

More than 15,000 sky lanterns were launched from downtown Grand Rapids
as part of an ArtPrize entry. More than 50,000 people came to light a lantern or view Lights in the Night – where hope takes flight. The lanterns were meant to represent hopes, dreams and wishes. The ArtPrize entry is now in the Top 10. Photo by Cassie Patton

A Rockford man is one of the co-creators of an ArtPrize entry being discussed locally and internationally after thousands and thousands of participants and spectators gathered Friday night to help Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson realize their vision for ArtPrize and landing their entry in the top 10.

Dan Johnson, of Rockford, and Mark Carpenter, of Grand Rapids, both felt the event was an extreme success with more than 50,000 people in attendance. Round two of ArtPrize voting opened on Sunday, Sept. 30 and runs through Thursday, Oct. 4.

ArtPrize attendees can vote for one of the top 10 entries with the code to vote for Lights in the Night being 52910. See related story on the top 10 ArtPrize entries.

The theme of Lights in the Night is to symbolize where hope takes flight in the form of sky lanterns representing individual hopes, dreams and wishes. More than 15,000 Chinese sky lanterns were launched from coordinated key points in the downtown Grand Rapids area on Friday, Sept. 28.

“You offer up your dreams and hopes for the future or even reconcile events of your past in a symbolic lantern launch,” the entry described.

Being at this event Friday night, this reporter was able to experience Lights in the Night firsthand. The sense of community, the emotional outpouring of feelings and the awe of seeing the lanterns in the sky was amazing.

While words such as “magical,” “beautiful,” “wonderful,” “amazing,” “enchanting” and “inspiring” were used to describe the launch, it is much harder to put in words the sense of community and the overflowing of emotions at the event. The event made a last impression, which was the goal, Johnson said.

Some have criticized Lights in the Night as the event skyrocketed in a 24-hour period through the ratings bypassing the top 100 and the top 50 on its climb to the top 25 and then to the top 10.

Johnson told The Rockford Squire the key components of ArtPrize are to “get out of the box” and find something that is art but is not as traditional, to involve the community and to leave a lasting impression. “It was super successful on all three of those accounts,” Johnson said. “Our art was really about getting out there and helping people experience it. The whole mission of ArtPrize is to have nontraditional art that involves the community. Many pieces elicit temporary emotions but ours leaves a lasting memory.”

“We’re the only ArtPrize piece to go viral around the world,” Johnson said.

He and Carpenter started working intensely in March on getting things in place for the launch, working with the City of Grand Rapids and working out how to execute the launch. All materials used in the lanterns are 100 percent biodegradable.

“There are different types of art,” Johnson said. “This is a performance that included the community. The community is a part of the entry.” Thousands and thousands of volunteers and community members made the entry happen as they passed out lanterns, coordinated the launch spaces and set off the lanterns at a coordinated time.

“It was magical,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t beat the harvest moon as a backdrop for the lanterns floating into the sky.”

“It was about the community coming down and launching the hopes and dreams off in the form of a lantern,” Johnson said. “We get story after story after story about what this experience meant to people. We have elicited more emotion than all the other artists combined.”

It also is possible that the event in Grand Rapids could be a world record if it is verified. The Guinness Book of World Records for a sky lantern launch is 12,740 Chinese lanterns.

“It was epic,” Johnson said. “It was a fantastic sight that you had to experience in person to truly understand. When you could see the lanterns reflecting off of the river and hotels, you just don’t get a picture like that unless you go out and make it happen and we did. The community should be proud for coming together for this experience. I saw people crying, hugging each other, dedicating lanterns. They all had a story to tell as they released their lantern into the night sky. They continue to come down by our display in the B.O.B. to tell us their stories.”

Johnson and Carpenter are employed developing digital applications for Android systems and iPhone systems. They are talking about having a Lights in the Night application.

To see more photos or video of Lights in the Night, visit the Facebook site at www.facebook.com/lightsinthenightgr.

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