Project Spotlight: Festival Planning for Emerson’s AfterDark Festival

Class Photo
Class photo with Professor Paul Turano

I came to Emerson College in order to gain a master’s that would allow me to combine my passion for the film and entertainment and festival planning industry through marketing. After speaking with the Strategic Marketing Communications program director, I knew that any of the skills I learned through my program could be applied to marketing products, companies, people or films. This is the great thing about the program: you learn about one skill, such as branding, and then you can apply it to nearly anything. The professors are very knowledgeable and come from a variety of industries, which provides for a fun mix in the classroom.

I am always looking for ways to combine film and marketing throughout my educational journey. This spring, Emerson offered a course called Partnered Studio: Projections on a Large Scale. This was a joint course made up of graduate and senior undergraduate students in the Marketing, Visual Media Arts, and Writing, Literature and Publishing programs. I love these types of courses because they offer an opportunity to work with students from other departments and learn new skills.

This class was designed with the intention of projecting onto the white tarp encasing the Little Building while it was under construction. When the Little Building construction progressed faster than anticipated, making such projections impossible, our class decided to put all our effort into a final festival.

This festival would allow us to showcase the work we had created all semester with the Emerson community. It would also allow students to try their hand at projection mapping on various buildings in Boylston Place, an alley off of Boylston Street in the heart of Emerson’s campus.

Designing the AfterDark Festival

Our studio partner for this class was Illuminus Boston. The owner, Jeff Grantz, came to class a few times to show us what Illuminus does with projection mapping. His first session and Professor Turano’s early assignments inspired many of the student artworks featured in Afterdark.

Two weeks before the festival, the class met with Jeff again to propose our ideas. We explained what we wanted to accomplish and Jeff gave us feedback. He was able to tell us if our ideas were technologically possible, what pieces of equipment we would need, and how we would begin the design process. This was one of the key discussions that brought the festival to fruition.

Festival planning with Jeff
Festival planning with Jeff Grantz

The main thing I learned with the coordination of this festival was how to get creative when solving problems. While the Afterdark showcase was a success in the end, the process of getting this event ready for opening night was a challenge. In order to get this festival off the ground, we needed backing from Emerson’s administration and funding for equipment.

I drafted a letter to the administration outlining why we believed they should support this festival and included a proposal outlining the festival details.

Once the festival was approved, we had two weeks to get everything together. There was no way that we could have pulled off this festival without the aid of Peggy Ings. Peggy is Emerson’s City Liaison and in addition to working with the city, she is very skilled at navigating the administrative system of the college.

In addition, the crew from Facilities are some of the most hardworking and creative problem solvers at this college. They were able to help us secure rooms, rig a giant screen, and even build false walls to hide equipment. There were so many individuals involved in making this festival happen; if I printed out the email chain, it would be a mile long.

Festival planning in action!

It was very rewarding to see the students come together to create a unique public art experience. The best part of the night was watching visitors interact with the artworks and student artists.

Students commented that they were excited to see underutilized spaces of campus reinvigorated with student-created art. For example, one of our students, JennyMae, brought the Tufte Building entrance back to life with projection art, twinkling lights, and a nature-inspired soundtrack. This space has been dormant and underutilized for years, and it was great to see what the space could become.

jennymae installation
JennyMae’s Tufte Building installation

My group created a light-up dress which we dubbed “Look at her GLOW.” We knew we wanted a mobile and wearable piece of art. In order to create the dress we used a hoop skirt, el-wire, and LED light strips to create unique designs. It was a great way to draw interest from individuals walking near campus and bring them into the festival.

Another crowd favorite was featured in our sculpture garden. Louise created a piece that combined motion sensors with projection art. Her piece featured a glass jar that appeared to have trapped fireflies inside. When guests opened the jar, the fireflies “escaped” and flew away on the screen behind the jar. When the lid was replaced, the fireflies returned to the jar.

I hope that this festival shows the administration the need to have more opportunities for students to display their work. We had students working with new media and technologies which provided a valuable creative and learning opportunity. In addition, the public nature of Afterdark shows Boston that Emerson is invested in supporting new art fields and local artists.