UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 14 Summer 21 Library
Brighter Together: Projection Mapping on the Amphitheater in partnership with Kluge-Ruhe featuring paintings from their exhibit Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together): 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists. Sanjay Suchak | University Communications

Brighter Together: Projection Mapping Across Grounds

“Don’t look now, but there is a tiger crawling across the University Chapel.”

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Pandemic fatigue? A long night on the Corner? Exam week hallucinations?  No, for two weekend evenings last spring, your eyes were not deceiving you. There was, in fact, a big cat peeking out from the Chapel’s bricks, and it was put there by local artist Jeff Dobrow. Dobrow, known for his projection mapping work around Charlottesville in spots like the IX Park and Downtown Mall, was the artistic mind behind Brighter Together, a series of projection mapping presentations presented over the course of several spring weekends on iconic buildings around UVA. 

Brighter Together was presented by UVA Arts, the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts, and the Division of Student Affairs, with technical support from the AV Company. The multi-week projection series was born out of a brainstorming session between UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Julie Carrucio, and Senior Assistant to President Jim Ryan, Matt Weber. “We were looking for ways to engage students in pop-up performances during the Spring semester in ways that would be fun, uplifting, joyful, and of course, safe,” Kielbasa said. “This particular idea sprung from the extensive projection mapping we did as part of the Bicentennial Launch Celebration on October 6, 2017, which brought up to 20,000 people to the Lawn. 

Brighter Together: Projection Mapping on the Rotunda

These have been difficult times for all of us in this community, and around the world,” he said, “and one of the things we all were reminded of is just how important the arts are to our lives. Here was a great chance to allow us to come together to appreciate art safely in a communal setting, and we were so thrilled to see so many in our community show up to do so.” 

Kielbasa had been aware of Dobrow’s work and had long been interested in working with him. “This ended up being the perfect match for Jeff’s talents and capabilities, and he provided unique and captivating experiences at each location that gave our community a sense of hope and joy that only the arts can provide.” 

On the evening of April 3, darkness had just taken the reins from a lovely spring evening. The Corner remained COVID-quiet, but on the steps of the Rotunda, something was happening. People gathered in small groups. Families, students, townspeople rather quietly making their way up the stairs to the landing surrounding the Jefferson statue and training their eyes on the iconic building before them. It’s a majestic view on most any night, but on this night, there was something more, an air of anticipation and excitement and drama so long missing in our pandemic existence. 

Brighter Together: Projection Mapping on the Rotunda
(Photo: Sanjay Suchak | University Communications)

The first splashes of light shone on venerable bricks and classic dome, and the building literally came alive, the images closely choreographed to the beat of local husband and wife musical duo Red Flower Lake. Soon the building we know so well was transformed, its iconic architecture taken over by a psychedelic floral display that melded perfectly with the trippy musical accompaniment. It was easy to get lost in a fun, short, and transporting journey that, in true pandemic fashion, dropped you off right where you started.  As the five-minute projection repeated on a loop, more and more art lovers and curious onlookers made their way up the steps and gazed skyward as Dobrow oversaw his vision come to life. That vision, he recently told C-Ville writer and former Cavalier Daily standout Dan Goff was an escapist one. “I really didn’t want to create a piece of art that contemplated…the horrible reality of 2020. We’ve had enough of that. Let’s dance. Let’s have some fun.” 

Brighter Together: Projection Mapping on the University Chapel
(Photo: Jeff Dobrow)

The fun continued in the weeks that followed as the moveable feast of light and sound made its way to the University Chapel, the UVA Amphitheatre, and Old Cabell Hall. Fittingly, the final weekend back at the University Chapel featured a salute to the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021, complete with arms raising diplomas in triumph and mortarboard hats sent skyward. 

“It was great to see the smiles on the faces of students, families, and local residents of all ages as they took a few moments to escape the difficult realities of the pandemic and found a way to appreciate art in such a creative way,” Kielbasa said. “As the world opens up, we are all looking forward to connecting with audiences in person again, but I will always be thankful for this opportunity to showcase the Arts at UVA in the way that we did on these special evenings.”