Public Art to Promote Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency can be a tough sell. Providing detailed information about financial savings and environmental benefits doesn’t always motivate conservation. So when rational arguments don’t work, how can we influence energy behavior? Perhaps by creating an emotional response with inclusive and engaging public art installations, such as the upcoming Northeast Green Light Project.


Artists bring fresh perspective to the challenge of energy behavior change

Last summer, CEE sponsored Bicycling Counts, visual storyteller Arlene Birt's data-driven installation to illustrate the collective impact of individual energy actions. The project elicited a positive community response and inspired us to collaborate with other artists. We recognized public art as an opportunity to apply our on-the-ground knowledge of energy efficiency while gaining fresh perspective from public artists. Forecast Public Art helped us develop Art as Energy, a CEE-commissioned installation. We used a two-part application process to engage local artists interested in learning about energy and working with us to develop a public art project advancing energy efficiency and conservation.

After selecting promising candidates from an open call for talent, we designed an “Energy 101” workshop to teach these finalists about the energy system and electric grid, how buildings use energy, effective messaging, and human-building interaction. The resulting proposals (which we’ll share in a future post) demonstrated extensive research and creative problem-solving. 

Installation to empower conservation and efficiency

A jury including representatives from the Walker Art Center, The McKnight Foundation, Cuningham Group Architecture, the Bakken Museum, and Creative CityMaking selected Minneapolis sculptor James Brenner’s Northeast Green Light Project. The installation’s core of six light sculptures connect to a wireless data management system and will change color to represent progressive levels of energy conservation in the Holland neighborhood. When the community collectively saves enough energy to offset the high school’s use, the lamps will turn green. A number of CEE’s programs, including Home Energy SquadOne-Stop Efficiency Shop®, and Engineering Services, will work with Holland residents and stakeholders to help them reach this goal.


According to Sarah Schultz, Art as Energy jury member and Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice at the Walker Art Center, “the Green Light Project demonstrates the power of art to engage a whole community in the challenges we face today and inspires us to take action by making our collective efforts visible.” Partners will include the Holland Neighborhood Improvement AssociationEdison High School, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, and Stantec design firm. 

A community-scale initiative

Jack Becker, Executive Director of Forecast Public Art and Public Art Review, noted “I'm particularly impressed with the way Brenner seamlessly integrated the Green Light Project into a much larger energy conservation initiative; sculpting the missions, energies, and talents of many to work toward a common goal. His skills as an artist, designer, and problem solver are matched by his leadership and sophistication as a community change agent—a rare and much-needed combination in a world that often views public art as simply bling in the landscape.”

This public art project has potential to engage the neighborhood and create quantifiable energy savings. A number of strategies effectively implement sustainability initiatives at the community level. Community-based social marketing moves beyond educational campaigns; removing barriers and providing community incentives to change behavior. And placemaking encourages individuals to take ownership over their neighborhoods, acting with the community in mind while advocating for larger scale projects and policies. These tactics require well-crafted messaging and on-the-ground efforts to spread the word and engage residents. We’ll apply them with the help of project partners and look forward to seeing the results.

Stay tuned for updates on the Northeast Green Light Project!

Related posts:

Gospel of Public Art

Bicycling Counts: Calculating the Impact of Minneapolis Cyclists

Image credit: James Brenner

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Tags: art, efficiency, energy, public, residential


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Comment by Perry Ning on July 11, 2013 at 6:27pm

    Yes. Do something. Once people get into the action, they will actually enjoy it. I just had a lesser proposal to see if our expert here would favor a DIY:

     You are invited to comment.  


     Perry from

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