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Dilworth Park’s mist and light art project just opened. Here’s how it works

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Color shines down from below and above.

Children dancing in the Pulse light and mist installation in Philly during the day. At night the LED lights (bottom left) bring color to the mist.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dilworth Park has seen a lot of changes in the past few years, including glass subway entrances, an interactive fountain, and now—finally—a pop of bright color among the grey.

The long-awaited Pulse art installation opened in the fountain last week, bringing four-foot columns of mist in bright green, orange, and purple colors to the plaza.

The installation is the brainchild of sculptor Janet Echelman, was commissioned in 2009 to create the piece. The idea was that colored mist would follow the MFL, Broad Street, and trolley lines as they run under the plaza. Right now, only the trolley line installation is running, thanks to a $325,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation. However, the Center City District (CCD) hopes for more funding to start the mist along the remaining subway lines.

Even though the installation just opened up, its infrastructure has been in place for some time—ever since the plaza’s renovation in 2014. Following the art piece’s grand opening last week, we decided to catch up with Center City District President Paul Levy to learn exactly what goes on beneath the surface of the plaza, and how the grant money was used.

The first part of the installation is made up of a trench, which sits just under the surface of the plaza, and was installed during Dilworth Park’s renovation in 2014, in anticipation of Pulse. The trench carries piping that runs down the middle and creates the mist. On either side of that are air diffuser pipes, which pump out air when the installation is triggered, and LED lights, which provide some of the color for Pulse.

“We put in a lot of piping,” Levy said, adding that the trenches were already built into the park, to provide water for the interactive fountain.

Underneath the park is a utility room, which contains several pump motors that make sure enough air is pushed out of the piping to create the four-foot columns of mist. Much of the grant funding for the project went toward putting in that system.

“We had to install pumps to connect to the main system in the fountain itself,” Levy said. “The train will come through and it will trigger the start of (the pumps).

But there’s an above ground component, too, which gives Echelman a little more artistic freedom. Two 35-foot poles rise above the plaza, each equipped with more LED fixtures to shine additional light on the mist from overhead.

“The lights from above are always changing,” Levy said, adding that Echelman may not stick to one color per train line, as they first intended. “There are different palates of color and the shading might change...It gives her a lot of freedom.”

Levy said the decision to open the first phase (without funding for the second two phases) alone, was a conscious one. He hopes that the opening of the project will excite Philadelphians, including potential donors.

“Until we did the first line, no one would get what it is,” Levy said. “This is about getting smiles on people’s faces.”

Check out the finished phase one of the project in our roundup of opening night Instagram photos:

And finally, a video taken by the artist herself, Janet Echelman:

View this post on Instagram

"Pulse" is my first water- based artwork

A post shared by Janet Echelman (@janetechelman) on

Dilworth Park

1 South 15th Street, , PA 19102 Visit Website