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A new solar-powered public artwork is lighting up the night in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Designed by Tempe-based artist Eli Richard, Sun Lanterns is a temporary exhibit comprised of 23 multicolor solar-powered lamps made with plexiglass and steel. Scottsdale Public Art commissioned the project to beautify the Civic Center Mall while it undergoes a redesign.

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“The fountain area is a large space with exposed pipework and uneven surfaces, situated in a highly trafficked area,” says Jennifer Gill, Public Art Manager, Scottsdale Public Art. “The goal for this project was not only to create a beautiful public artwork in a barren space, but also to visually encourage people to refrain from entering the fountain area for safety reasons while the City of Scottsdale works on a new design for the mall.”

Gill says they received many outstanding proposals, but the selection panel felt that Sun Lanterns “successfully activated the site by having a vibrant, multifaceted daytime and nighttime presence.” She added that given the installation would live outdoors for up to two years and Scottsdale Public Art’s commitment to using clean energy in public art when possible, “the sustainability of the materials and solar lights were also important factors.” Lastly, Gill says the panel felt the lantern concept complements the site’s aesthetic.

“The Sun Lanterns are inspired by the colors and landscape of the Arizona desert,” Richard tells LAGI. “I have lived in the Phoenix area for five years and I am still blown away by the beauty of the desert and the resilience of the local vegetation. The lanterns play on the color schemes seen throughout different times of the day and utilize solar powered lights to illuminate those colors at night.”

Scottsdale Public Art says on their website that the exhibit, installed in February, replaces non-functioning water fountains. “Instead of water, the fountains are now filled with art.”

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Specifically designed for this site as a commission with the City of Scottsdale, the lanterns are self sufficient and do not require any maintenance — of which Richard is particularly proud.

“The lights flicker on one by one as the sun goes down, after absorbing its rays throughout the day,” says Richard. “I believe it [Sun Lanterns] adds a much needed splash of color and light in the plaza where they are installed,” he adds. “The surrounding sculptures, while beautiful and well known, are almost invisible at night. The lanterns allow a unique opportunity for visitors to enjoy the walkway.”

Gill says the response has been overwhelming since the project’s installation. “Sun Lanterns quickly captured the imagination of the public, resulting in an explosion of Instagram posts and a variety of print and digital news features about the project,” she says. “In addition to receiving positive feedback from the general public visiting the Civic Center Mall, City of Scottsdale staff, whose offices are at the mall, have expressed how much they enjoy the artwork on a daily basis.”

Visitors will find Sun Lanterns north of Robert Indiana’s LOVE, near the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, for the next 16-24 months. Construction of the renovation is not expected to occur for well over a year. At that point, the lanterns will be donated to Scottsdale for placement elsewhere in the city.

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And Richard? He’s always on the lookout for new design challenges and ways to incorporate natural resources.

“Moving forward I am primarily focusing on plexi glass and steel work and developing ideas for kinetic sculpture through solar or wind power,” he says. “I am definitely interested in creating more work with solar powered lighting!”

Images courtesy Eli Richard

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.