After nightfall, the Garment District is more of a just-passed-through part of the city than a destination. But a new public art installation that will bow Tuesday may stop some in their tracks.
A 14-foot-high neon-colored illuminated lantern will be hard to miss when it debuts on Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets. Titled “Living Lantern,” the piece was created by the U.K.-based design practice Neon in collaboration with the light artist Frankie Boyle, who is also an advocate for mental health and neurodiversity. It will be on view through Feb. 24 and will be powered by Wireframe. The Garment District Alliance’s president Barbara Blair and the artists will be on hand for Tuesday afternoon’s unveiling.
Wind will cause the spindly structure to open and close, prompting light to filter from its core and animated light sequences to infuse the space with flowing colors. The installation is part of the Garment District Art on the Plazas, a year-round public art program that is made possible through the New York City Department of Transportation’s Art Program. It is the 25th one. The GDA’s vice president Jerry Scupp said, “After New Year’s, everyone is pretty much spent, and it’s cold and a little gloomy. We like to put out these illuminated things that have a little bit of warmth and hope when there is not a lot of other public art going on.”
Such free and unexpected art often surprises some of the estimated 40,000-plus people — about 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels — that pass through the Garment District’s public plazas each day, he said. With about 56 hotels in the area, the foot traffic hasn’t been as impacted as some other Manhattan neighborhoods by the downturn in office workers due to hybrid schedules. As of mid-September, 49 percent of Manhattan office workers had returned to their respective workplaces on an average weekday and only 9 percent of employees were back in the office five days a week, according to the Partnership for New York City.
On another front, the Garment District Alliance has been advocating with city officials to allow for some office buildings and side-street loft-style buildings to be converted to residential ones, but there is no plan in place at this point. Scupp noted how New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has publicly acknowledged the city’s housing crisis, “and the need to look at not just new development, but repurposing underused buildings,” he said.