Across Appalachia

Charlottesville Public Art Project Reimagines Energy Use

Date: February 17, 2016

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By Eliza Laubach

Charlottesville, Va., residents will soon have a sidewalk view of their energy use — on an electric pole. At eight different junctures of the city’s 13 neighborhoods, stripes on the poles will, like a bar graph, compare the average and previous month’s electricity and natural gas use in homes within the two intersecting boroughs.

Artist Matthew Slaats designed the installations to build awareness around energy use and infrastructure. “Our relationship with energy is not something we can turn off,” he says, “and the light poles, they’re everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”

The project is part of the two-year Energize! Charlottesville campaign, and is funded by the city and the Piedmont Council for the Arts. Among six local artists, Slaats won a $5,000 award to implement a captivating project that encourages residents to use less energy. The installations will be up for six months to a year; at its conclusion, the artist will organize block parties at each site to deepen community engagement.

Slaats, who also serves as executive director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, says that building connections and bringing people together is a driving force in his work.

Hopes are high that the “pole graphs” project will help the city win the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a nationwide competition that will award $5 million to a town with the largest reduction in residential and municipal energy use over a two-year period. Charlottesville is one of 50 competing cities from across the country working to reduce its community energy consumption. For more information, visit energizecharlottesville.org

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