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Emily Powell
IU Art Museum

Nicole Roales
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2007

IU Art Museum building lights up with 25th anniversary celebration

Oct. 22, 2007

EDITORS: Broadcast quality video of the Light Totem is available. To obtain the video, contact Nicole Roales at or 812-856-3717. For more information on Robert Shakespeare, follow this link:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Art Museum building will celebrate its 25th birthday with the power of 500 million candles. On Oct. 26, the switch will be flipped on the 25th Anniversary Light Totem, a dazzling light installation illuminating a 70-foot freestanding tower, a 40-foot-long tube within the atrium, and the building's south exterior wall. Three searchlights will further highlight the building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei.

Light Totem

Sean Smallman, a second year MFA student, works on the Light Totem.

Print-Quality Photo

The event will begin at 7 p.m. with a lecture by Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former Distinguished Professor of Art History and professor of Comparative Literature at IU Bloomington. The lecture will take place in the Hope School of Fine Arts Auditorium, Room 015. The lighting ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. on the museum's front lawn, followed by a reception in the Solley Atrium. The event is free and open to the public.

The 25th Anniversary Light Totem will glow throughout the night for the remainder of the year. The tower will be arrayed with light-emitting diode (LED) floodlights to create vibrant, jewel-like tones that will project color onto the IU Art Museum's south-facing wall. The tower itself will be illuminated with LEDs that will reflect off its aluminum structure. Each of the six lighted sections can be programmed to project any color of the rainbow and to change color up to every tenth of a second.

A 208 million candle power searchlight will top the tower, capable of casting a beam that can be seen from several miles in any direction. Two additional searchlights will project diagonally from the roofs of the building, meeting the tower's searchlight several hundred feet in the air. The resulting airborne image will echo the shape of the building's roofline.

Within the building's atrium, an illuminated line, 2 inches in diameter, will stretch the height of the north window. This 40-foot long light can change color at inch-and-a-half long intervals.

The Light Totem is the work of Robert Shakespeare, professor of lighting design in IU's department of Theatre and Drama and head of the department's design and technology area and its Master of Fine Arts lighting program. His lighting credits include more than 200 designs for theater productions, houses of worship, resorts, skyscrapers and some of the world's largest bridges.

Using a control unit no larger than a paperback novel, Shakespeare can program the colored lights to perform choreographed sequences up to 25 minutes in duration, creating "a visual poem," he said.

Shakespeare chose the term "totem" because it traditionally stands for a clan or group of people -- in this case, the IU and Bloomington community of artists, educators and patrons.

"The Light Totem will re-announce the building to the community," he said.

Light Totem

Students and IU professional staff work on the Light Totem.

Print-Quality Photo

Each element of the Light Totem will correspond to the design of the building. The tower will be the same height as the tallest wall of the museum and half the width of one panel of its exterior walls. The interior element will span the north window and echo the central installation of the atrium, also a totem design. The searchlights will draw the slope of the roof in the night sky, "projecting the triangular shape of the building into the air," Shakespeare said.

The project is both a beacon to draw the community to the IU Art Museum and a beacon to "green" lighting, he said. LED lights can burn continuously for about seven years, and consume far less energy than other light sources. The entire Totem will require around 3,000 watts, compared to between 30,000 and 40,000 watts that would be required with traditional sources.

"I hope the Totem will inspire a move to green lighting on campus," he said.

Between dusk and dawn, the lights will provide an ever-changing colorscape, especially in dense atmospheric conditions.

"It is difficult to model how weather will affect the appearance, but I am imagining that with snow swirling around it may create a very zingy effect," he said.

Shakespeare's involvement with the IU Art Museum dates back almost four years, to when he first began working with the Third Floor Gallery. His lighting designs will help the gallery move beyond merely displaying objects to facilitate a greater audience experience of connection to the art, said Adelheid Gealt, director of the IU Art Museum.

"Rob Shakespeare is a lighting genius whose many talents include a deep sympathy and understanding of the architectural language of this very special building designed by I.M. Pei & Partners," she said. "It's been a great joy to collaborate with one of IU's talented artists on what will be a spectacular project."

An exhibit in the atrium will also celebrate the anniversary, chronicling the design and construction of the building. Archival photographs and architectural models will tell the story of the building's beginnings.

"Our building is an architectural gem that fulfills all the necessary functions of an art museum while also being a visual and aesthetic delight in and of itself," Gealt said. "After 25 years, it's still a joy to enter."

The occasion also coincides with the publication of a new book by Gealt and the IU Art Museum's curatorial staff, Masterworks from the Indiana Art Museum, due for release from Indiana University Press later this fall.

The Light Totem project is the recipient of an Indiana University New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant. Additional support has been provided by Robert and Sara LeBien and Bill and Nancy Hunt. Duke Energy is the exclusive corporate sponsor of this project.

For more information on Robert Shakespeare, follow this link:

About the Indiana University Art Museum
With collections ranging from ancient gold jewelry and African masks to paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, the Indiana University Art Museum is located on 7th Street in the heart of the Bloomington campus. The Indiana University Art Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m., and includes Angles Café & Gift Shop. The Art Museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission is always free and open to the public. More information on all exhibitions and programs can be found at