“Band” LED installation at Akron City Center Hotel spurs wonderment Downtown

Reporting and writing by Abbey Marshall

The Akron City Center Hotel has been permanently closed since 2017, but the 20,000 LED lights in mesmerizing hues swirling, bouncing and shimmying across the protruding rectangular top give the building a breath of life it hadn’t felt in years.

“There’s a sense of wonderment and curiosity about what is going on,” artist Ian Brill says. “We’re cynical, and we’re used to that. To be able to create a situation where somebody sees something that makes them stop and have a critical moment, even if it’s not necessarily positive, but just stop and be… I think that’s wonderful.”

Brill, a Pittsburgh-based performative installation and sound artist, wants people to look up at the 2,250 square feet of LED panels and gawk at the brutalist building they might’ve not appreciated for years.

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Ian Brill’s “Band” at 20 West Mill St., 19th Floor (Video by Noel Dannemiller)

Brill was commissioned in the fall by Curated Storefront, a non-profit born out of the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge that promotes creative exhibitions in empty or underutilized Downtown Akron storefronts. The project was significantly funded by Downtown Akron Partnership. From conception to creation, the installation took around five months to complete. It is the largest space he has filled with an installation.

“This project was a negotiation between what was available in the physical space and what would have the greatest impact,” he says of the 19th floor space, which previously served as the private Akron City Club with 360-degree views of Downtown Akron. “It was about trying to create spectacle and use of the scale. In this particular space, it was about public impact and trying to create a sensorial experience that was going to have a positive effect on the Downtown Akron landscape.”

Brill found himself expressing his artwork through this medium because of his need for continuous creative flow. He distinguishes his pieces from traditional LED artwork by using generative code to create unexpected and flowing movement.

“I like the idea of being able to automate all these different emotional responses and sit there and look at it and see how it affects me and others,” he says.

If someone were to watch “Band” for hours on end, it would never quite be the same. The program doesn’t loop: instead, thousands of pieces of code written by Brill generate patterns and behaviors to act out in an algorithm.

“There’s more or less endless change as different behaviors inherit properties from previous behaviors, but there’s also endless opportunities for it to become destabilized and refreshed,” he says of the installation’s patterns guided by his code. He has even gone back to reprogram new patterns after seeing people’s social media posts or drone footage from various angles, and he says he will likely do it again while the installation is up.

Curated Storefront commissioned Brill after a 2018 Akron installation called “Reverie,” which was on display on North Main Street for a year. Unlike other pieces in galleries or art museums, “Reverie” was his first outward-facing project.

“I used to dream about doing installations in an office building and you walk around the corner and you’re like ‘What?’”, he says of “Reverie.” “It was spectacularly massive. I wanted people driving by to say, ‘Did that just happen or was that a daydream?’ I wanted them to be taken aback and look at things with a different sense of scale.”

Curated Storefront brought Brill back to Akron after the success of his previous project and the desire to display an even bigger spectacle downtown.

“We wanted to bring attention to a space that’s been dark,” says Courtney Cable, the creative director of Curated Storefront. “It helps lift the eye up. You might not know what it is, and you might not care, but you can’t miss it. That has really added to the beautiful complexity of the downtown lightscape.”

For now, the project is up for an undetermined amount of time based on the construction timeline for the space. The hotel will soon be converted into Ascend, a Testa Companies residential project of 146 modern units, a rooftop container bar where the old helipad once sat, a 20th floor pool and luxury lofts on the 19th floor in the space currently occupied by the “Band” installation.

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On April 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Curated Storefront and Downtown Akron Partnership will host a live event at Cascade Plaza to celebrate the installation. Brill, who is also a performance artist, will return to Akron and program his installation in real time alongside music pumped out into the plaza that will transition from jazz to electronic dance music throughout the evening. The event will also be livestreamed on Curated Storefront’s website. 

“This will be a cool interactive experience because his artwork is meant to be experienced over time,” Cable says. “We want to bring people Downtown and bring attention to this space. People can reminisce as this space is revived and dredge up positive memories of things that have happened here because it has been such an event space.”

View Ian’s art installations at ianbrill.org

Abbey Marshall covers economic development for The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach her at abbey@thedevilstrip.com

Featured photo: Used with permission by Jenn Kidd.