Most traditional art spaces took a pause with the advent of COVID-19, prompting artists to make and share work in less conventional settings, including parking lots and garages.
Now, Phoenix audiences can embrace the trend on a grand scale, as ASU Gammage presents “designspace,” an event it’s describing as a “drive-thru sensory experience.”
It’s happening inside a university parking structure on Packard Drive, where drivers slowly wind their way through a shifting landscape of patterns, lights, sculpture, and sound.
“The experience is quite different than simply looking at a static piece of art on a wall,” explains John Featherstone, who conceived the idea and worked with more than 100 creatives to make it happen.
Two of Featherstone’s daughters attended ASU, which got him wondering how students with the school’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts would fare during the pandemic. He’s well-versed in visual culture, as a partner and principal with an international lighting, media, and visual design firm called Lightswitch.
“Museums, theme parks, concert halls, and immersive experiences were all getting cut off from the knees,” he recalls of early COVID-19 days. “I realized that a whole bunch of students might not be getting experiences in the real world the way they had before, and some might graduate without doing a show or having a portfolio.”
Featherstone got to talking with Jacob Pinholster, an associate dean with the Herberger Institute, then with Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage. “As a university, we had been discussing the kinds of things that we could do, circling around the realities of safety and access,” she recalls.
Ultimately, they landed on a project that brought together about 115 students, artists, designers, and other industry professionals — including creatives from HYBYCOZO, whose work has been featured at Burning Man, the Smithsonian Institution, and Canal Convergence in Scottsdale. Featherstone estimates they've collectively spent thousands of hours putting "designspace" together.
Jennings-Roggensack likens the installation to driving through a museum of light and sound, but also sees echoes of the communal theater experience in the event. “People will come in their pods instead of sitting side by side inside a theater, but they’ll still be going on a journey together with all those feelings of excitement and expectation.”
ASU Gammage opens "designspace" on April 9.
They’ve already teased a few of the installations, including one that incorporates images of several planets. One includes colorful spheres measuring about 10 to 12 feet in diameter. Another projects images of dancers in motion.
“It’s really a series of vistas,” explains Featherstone. At one point, cars end up on top of the garage and go through a tunnel-like installation created with 75-foot-long screens. “Outlines of cars get turned into stars and projected around you.”
For Jennings-Roggensack, the collaboration is a prime example of the ways artists have been adapting of late. “This is what all creatives have done during the pandemic, reimagining and reinventing,” she says. “Nothing will ever replace live theater, but this gives audiences another exciting option.”
The "designspace" event opens Friday, April 9, and continues through Sunday, April 25, at Packard Drive Parking Structure, located at 555 South Packard Drive in Tempe. Tickets are $44.65 (including fees) per car.