Upstate New York Cities to Illuminate Blight

Public art installation draws attention to vacant buildings in Albany and beyond.

A blighted Albany, New York, building (Photo by Andy Arthur)

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Public art installations in Albany, Schenectady and Troy will illuminate hundreds of vacant buildings across the three New York cities to draw attention to urban blight, reports the Troy Record, and to encourage potential buyers to invest in their revitalization.

The brainchild of local artist Adam Frelin and architect Barbara Nelson, “Breathing Lights” intends to renew interest and investment in city neighborhoods with high vacancy rates. To support action on these issues, the project also includes eight months of programming and events. Free building reclamation clinics will educate potential property owners about basic home repairs and lead paint hazards, as well as resources available to help purchase blighted properties, like tax credits and grant programs. The clinics, taught by partners including the Troy Rehabilitation Improvement Program, the Troy Architecture Program, and the Affordable Housing Partnership, aim to prepare potential buyers to make smart purchases, renovate homes safely and establish strong neighborhood roots. Rehabbing residents will also be eligible for nomination as Rehab Heroes, recognized for their successful care of abandoned buildings. They’ll serve as resources to other prospective homebuyers.

“In recent years we’ve seen a resurgence in interest in urban homestead, and it’s been thrilling to see that because it brings private investment into the community to dovetail on the public investment we’ve been able to attract,” said Troy Mayor Patrick Madden at a press conference.

Each city will also host youth media workshops to educate young people in video, radio, interview, scripting and storytelling. Those students will then help give voice to residents affected by blight and “Breathing Lights.” Arts programming at local galleries and performance spaces will accompany the public art installation, which will run in October and November 2016. Local artist teams are invited to propose additional projects related to the installation’s themes, to draw further attention to neglected buildings and neighborhoods.

“Anything just to save one more building from falling victim — it’s worth it,” said Jocelyn Henderson, a resident in Troy’s North Central district and one of Troy’s “neighborhood ambassadors.” During the event she and other ambassadors will act as spokespeople for their neighborhoods, leading guided walks of the installation and collecting public feedback. She told the Troy Record she hopes the project will “raise the morale, and raise the quality of life in these communities — breathe some life back into them.”

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Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: real estateblight

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