Urban Matter's "Silent Lights" in New York City

Urban Matter’s “Silent Lights” in New York City

Correction: The original version of this story had the incorrect address for today’s event at Hardscuffle Gallery; the location is 324 E. Main St.

Metro government is partnering with City Collaborative, IDEAS40203, Creative Commons, Urban Matter Inc. out of Brooklyn and others to create an interactive, kinetic art installation powered by open data health information. This project is the brainchild of Puneet Kishor, the manager of science and data policy at Creative Commons, a global nonprofit that collects and shares data and information with limited or no copyright restrictions.

In a nutshell, the group plans to install sensor-based air-quality hardware around the city (20-40 different locations, depending on what the budget will allow). These sensors will collect environmental information like temperature, humidity, particulates and dust and stream them to a central server where the data will be collected and translated into an art installation developed by Urban Matter Inc.

Urban Matter Inc is an interdisciplinary experience design firm founded in 2012 by Shagun Singh, Valeria Bianco, and Rick Lin. Their “Silent Light” data visualization project that turned New York City traffic noise into colored lights was awarded the Artplace America grant for excellence in creative-placemaking. Singh, Lin and Danielle Christophe are the team leading the art side of the Louisville project.

“Silent Lights” shares a common ethos with the Louisville project. Taking something negative (noise/air pollution) and turning it to something positive (art).

Kishor and the Urban Matter crew are in town to lead an open workshop today (from 1-4 p.m. at the Hardscuffle Gallery, 324 E. Main St.) with local designers, tech people and city leaders (the public also is welcome) and to visit possible locations for the installation. It is the first time in Louisville for all of them, so it’s important that they hear from and experience the city so that the installation can have the “right sense of place.”

“Common people feel left out of data,” Kishor tells Insider Louisville. If they’re disengaged from policy-making, it’s easy for them to become apathetic. This project is meant to “collect and communicate data from people, and then share it with the people the data is about.”

In the spirit of Creative Commons, Kishor says every bit of this project will be “open,” and other cities and entities can take any piece of it and replicate it, reuse it and improve upon it.

The project is being funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. Because the RWJF already is funding a grant to the Community Foundation of Louisville “to use real-time data from patients and environmental data to improve outcomes for people with chronic respiratory disease and to inform policymakers,” Louisville was a natural fit for the location of this project. This project distributes sensors that people who have asthma can clip to their inhaler. Every time they use the inhaler, it records the time and location.

There are plans to merge data from the two projects.

Kishor says Metro Louisville Chief of Civic Innovation Ted Smith (who also is the driver of the Community Foundation grant) has been supportive and encouraging, as have other city departments and organizations with which he’s worked.

The project has an “aggressive timeline,” according to Kishor. He hopes the sensors will go up next month and the art installation soon after.