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Project to bring life to blighted buildings in Schenectady, Albany, Troy

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Project to bring life to blighted buildings in Schenectady, Albany, Troy

In October, blighted homes in Albany, Schenectady and Troy will breathe with light as part of a proj
Project to bring life to blighted buildings in Schenectady, Albany, Troy
Architect Adam Frelin talks at a news conference on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in the former St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church at 820 Eastern Ave. in Schenectady about the Breathing Lights project scheduled to get underway in the Capital Region in the fa...
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

In October, blighted homes in Albany, Schenectady and Troy will breathe with light as part of a project that will also include community art submissions.

The “Breathing Lights” project, which received $1 million as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, will highlight, rather than hide, about 300 vacant properties in the three cities.

“The project will complement the investment that’s being made and the energy being brought into cities,” Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said during a press conference on Wednesday announcing details of the project at the old St. Mary’s Church on Eastern Avenue. “We can take our weaknesses and our worst assets and make them valuable in our communities.”

The goal of the project is for the Capital Region cities to address the issue of distressed properties together with the hope of having some of them rehabilitated in the future.

“One of the offshoots of the Breathing Lights project is that the program will be developing essentially schools that will help prospective homebuyers with the challenges of acquiring these buildings, rehabbing these buildings and financing these buildings,” Troy Mayor Patrick Madden said.

As part of the project, LED lights will be installed around the perimeter of street-facing windows. The lights will dim and brighten, giving the impression that the homes have a pulse and are breathing.

Eight blighted homes on Eastern Avenue and Degraff Street were used as tests for the Breathing Lights project last month. They included 762, 764, 846, 852 and 854 Eastern Avenue as well as 105 and 108 Degraff Street and the former St. Mary’s Convent on Eastern Avenue.

Laurie Elwell, who lives on Eastern Avenue, said she believes the Breathing Lights project will give people hope.

“I think this is a really beautiful project because awareness is the key and art inspires people,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”

Starting in October

Homes in the three cities will be lit daily between 6 and 10 p.m. starting the first week of October until November.

Each city will hold an event around the Breathing Lights project with Schenectady’s planned on Oct. 28 and 29 by the Boys and Girls Club and Proctors. Troy’s event is scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 and Albany’s will be on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5.

Capital Region residents are encouraged to submit ideas for Breathing Lights community arts projects that can coincide with the initiative, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said.

“Community arts projects are an opportunity for local artists to develop and display projects that will strengthen the look and feel of Breathing Lights,” Sheehan said. “They can be any medium — visual arts, theater, music, film, electronic media, web art.”

The plan is to install the community arts projects in public spaces in October and November during the display of Breathing Lights, she said. Submission materials can be accessed at https://artscenterofthecapitalregion.submittable.com/submit/53924.

The Breathing Lights project will also include youth media workshops by Youth FX in Albany, Proctors in Schenectady and Youth Media Sanctuary in Troy to provide classes on video, radio, interview, scripting, storytelling and print.

“Each program will teach local teenagers about storytelling through video, radio and print media,” Sheehan said. “They will use the skills that they learned to tell stories of residents and neighborhoods that will be illuminated.”

The stories will be featured at city weekend events and at the Breathing Lights culminating summit planned next April.

For more information on Breathing Lights visit the project’s website at www.breathinglights.com.

The press conference was held in the vacant St. Mary’s Church, which closed in 2009. Sandra Vardine purchased and renovated the church and plans to reopen it as an event venue and school.

Vardine said the idea is to give the church back to the community. She is looking to host events and weddings at St. Mary’s along with a possible partnership with YouthBuild Schenectady to hold classes there.

“There is so much potential,” she said. “We’re in the process of ironing out the details. I have this vision that I would like to keep moving forward. I’m excited and thrilled to be a part of it.”

Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.

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