Photo by Kirstin Hively
New York’s best neon lights glowed brightest indoors on the Upper West Side last night. That’s where Kirsten Hively drew a full house of New Yorkers to a screening room at Macaulay Honors College and into her quest to find, document and celebrate the city’s most electrifying handcraft.
What began last year as a personal hobby sparked by Upper East Side doldrums and the 100th anniversary of neon became a photo set on Flikr, a popular blog, a successful Kickstarter project and an I-Phone app in quick succession. The application makes it easy for anyone in New York to share Hively’s fascination with the particulars of neon. Want to find the nearest example of calligraphic, vintage or figural lighting? Click on an interactive map and Project Neon guides the way.
Why the focus on neon? “The city by day is textural...but by night colors shock and delight the senses,” said Cristiana Pena, Director of Preservation for Landmark West! The award-winning, community-based non-profit organization committed to preserving the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side, hosted last night’s event. “I think they are beautiful and really light up the night,” said Hively during her presentation. “Neon signage is free and open to everyone, like an open air museum.”
Photo by Maria Gorshin
In a fast-moving hour and a half, Hively led a rapt audience on a tour of the history, science and rationale behind neon. It turns out that neon is more than bright, often quirky signage. It serves as a “beacon in the night” most often for businesses that can be difficult to find in an emergency – pharmacies, liquor stores and parking garages. Also, “it’s hard to draw faces in neon” according to Hively, who shared humorous examples of glowing attempts from neon hotspots as far as Coney Island, the Bronx and Queens to Times Square. The Upper West Side’s Dublin House, with its animated sign and familiar harp, distinguished itself as home to “the gem of New York neon art.”
As New York’s ‘mom & pop’ shops continue to disappear from New York’s streetscape so do neon signs. How can they be saved from disappearing all together? Hively gave advice as straightforward and easy to follow as a blinking red neon arrow in the night: “The best advocacy is to support the businesses that have them so they can continue to shine.”
Follow @heyprojectneon and @LandmarkWest on Twitter to learn about two free I-Phone apps at once – Project Neon’s guide to New York City’s best and brightest signage and Landmark West’s walking tour of Upper West Side landmarks.
Visit projectneon.tumblr.com to follow Hively on her neon adventures and to see the 700 illuminating images of neon she has captured to date. Her photos are currently on exhibit at City Reliquary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.