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After Glow — One Year Later:

Hard to believe that a year has already passed since our city launched the inaugural GLOW dusk-to-dawn art festival on and near the Santa Monica Pier. The grunion were due to run that night and they give off an iridescent “glow” as they spawn — hence the event’s name. I recall that a reasonable crowd of 50,000 or so was expected in advance of the July 19, 2008, festival. It was not exactly a U2 concert — rather 17 commissioned artists/groups installing a “museum without walls” in the words of one organizer, and some humble fish trying to perpetuate their species. Outreach for GLOW was limited, mostly announcements on public radio KCRW.

Instead, an estimated 200,000 showed up!

What a night! Selected tidbits:

7:00 p.m. — GLOW starts and the crowd is pretty much a demure “art opening” demographic, what you might expect KCRW listeners to look like. I teamed with fellow Santa Monica artist Elena Siff and we installed seven backpack assemblage pieces with Japanese fish banners along the concrete railing of Palisades Park. Meanwhile, among the others Santa Monica artist Frank Rozasy and crew were installing their project of 2,000 variously hued glow sticks on the beach below, entitled “Illumination Migration.”

8:00 p.m. — Some of the folks I had invited to GLOW began calling. They were turning back. They couldn’t get into Santa Monica. Turns out the Santa Monica Freeway westbound backed up past the 405. PCH from the north became a parking lot, as did the surface streets from south of the city. My friend Greg in the Palisades made it by bike.

10:00 p.m. — The crowd was still growing and the demographics were definitely shifting to youth with a good dose of punk. Our group donned our solar lighted backpacks and began a gentle march from Palisades Park down to the end of the pier. It was very crowded but manageable. At the end of the pier we stood in formation as Arthur Nakane, one-man-band, did a musical set of songs mentioning the sun, including “House of the Rising Sun” in both English and Japanese. After all, it was dawn in Japan and their solar cells were replenishing while ours were depleting.

Meanwhile, the crowd was huge and still growing. For several hours Frank Rozasy and crew tried to keep the hordes from stealing “Illumination Migration’s” glow sticks. According to Rozasy: “All of sudden a rumor spread that it was okay to take the glow sticks. I could see that in a matter of minutes all the sticks would be gone so my crew and I started gathering as many as we could. In fifteen minutes the sticks were gone and we had only 200 of the 2,000.”

Midnight: Our team of seven backpack performers gently worked our way back off the pier. I have never parted the Red Sea but suppose our march was as close as you could get. It was wall-to-wall people. About this time the SMPD closed the pier to any more visitors. Some of the art projects on the sand were also shut down to try and slow the crowd, including Usman Haque’s “Primal Source,” a huge lighted water display north of the pier that was a kind of cross between the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and Jackson Pollack.

Meanwhile, on the beach the grunion were running as predicted and apparently were not disturbed by the large crowd allaying some earlier concerns by conservationists and animal rights groups.

Wee Hours: GLOW rocked on until dawn. Rozasy and crew spent the night telling folks how their installation had been destroyed. With time, visitors were given remaining glow sticks and they started their own designs in the sand. “It was very organic and fun,” notes the artist whose GLOW story has a happy ending.

Our fish banner backpacks, re-installed in their perches along the Palisades Park railing, survived the night unmolested.

Why the incredible crowd? In a post mortem meeting the dominant theory was that GLOW morphed into one of the largest “rave parties” ever. It was all about texting as early arrivals beckoned their peers to the pier.

Son of GLOW? According to Jessica Cusick at the city’s Cultural Affairs Division, GLOW is slated to return one night in September, 2010. Kudos to the city for its bravado. But then we are all much further up the learning curve. Among other things, in terms of crowd control and art preservation, now we know why museums have walls!

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