How would the Benjamin Franklin parkway celebrate its 100th birthday, you ask? Well, Jay-Z just performed at the annual Made In America Festival, but the Association of Public Art (aPA) and the Fung Collaboratives had another plan—commissioning a site-specific public art piece titled Fireflies on the occasion of the parkway’s centennial. The artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, is internationally acclaimed for his provocative and spectacular use of gunpowder and fireworks. Although these materials weren't used in Fireflies, the artist still hopes to spark the fireworks in the viewer's heart. Running till October 8, Thursdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m., Fireflies will light up the grand boulevard with over 900 illuminated lanterns in various colors and shapes, held aloft by 27 customized, moving pedicabs.
Handcrafted in the artist’s hometown, Quanzhou, China, these lanterns represent the artist’s personal childhood memories. However, the designs on the lanterns are meant to be culturally diverse—emojis, donuts, sushi, panda, tigers, submarines—so that people from different backgrounds can collectively enjoy the artwork. As a public art event, Fireflies invites everyone to board the vehicles and up and down the parkway from Sister Cities Park at Logan Square to Iroquois Park, temporarily escaping into a childlike, dreamy nightscape.
The high accessibility and relevance of Fireflies to the people of Philadelphia and other visitors therefore imply the equity and opportunity that art could bring to its audience. As Cai said through an interpreter at the premiere, “I wish to give the parkway back to the people and let them participate in this celebration... Fireflies will symbolize the spirit of multiculturalism, the spirit of coming together as well as dream.”