Crowdfunding campaign helps team of artists transform River Bank Park for immersive event

FLINT, Michigan -- A successful crowdfunding campaign last winter provided creative residents with small grants and a relatively open-ended task: create an event this summer or fall that activates a designated public space downtown. 

Flint resident Jerin Sage didn’t just activitate Riverbank Park on July 9. His event, ‘River Lights,’ completely re-imagined and transformed the historic park. Attendees walked through 15 different stations in the park, which featured light installations, artwork, belly dancers, performances, and more. 

Sage and a team of volunteers have been planning the elaborate event since February and worked for more than a day on the complex installations and interactive elements.
The River Lights concept was so intriguing that all of their RSVP slots were filled before anyone even saw the installation.“We spent a lot of time just developing how this could work (in Riverbank Park),” Sage said. “We have different lighting features, lasers, fog machines, air foam machines, bubble machines. There are all kinds of moving pieces. The idea was that, scene one was a tunnel, and then your focal point as you come through is designed so that as you’re walking, it keeps drawing you to the next thing. The idea was to give people new and different experiences with each scene.”

Excitement for the event grew based on the unique descriptions alone. Organizers made 400 spots available for people to reserve before they’d even seen any part of the installation. All 400 slots filled up several days before the event.

“To watch it actually come to life is magical,” Sage sait. “It is humbling to get so much support for these sorts of ideas.”

Sage, who grew up in Flint, is an artist and the organizer of Flint Drop Fest, an annual electronic music festival. This year’s festival is on August 14. He’s experienced in setting up large events and festivals and owns IVAN (Immersive Visual Arts Network). 

Part of his goal with the River Lights experience was to call attention to and complement the many features in River Bank Park. These range from heavy industrial concrete sections, to natural features that include the river, large trees, and patches of cattails and wetland areas in what used to be fountains.

“It is an underutilized space,” Sage said. “So that’s the point of what we’re doing -- we want to shed light on underutilized space. We want to put new light on something that hasn’t been looked at closely. So we have concrete, water, we have a wooded area, we have hills. The lights and performances draw people to those things.”
River Lights helped re-imagine Riverbank Park downtown Flint.River Lights was the second event to come out of a crowdfunding class facilitated by the What’s Up Downtown Project. After taking a class, residents promoted a campaign that raised $20,000 to do 10 events in spaces downtown ($2,000 per event). The first event last month was an arts and crafts market in Brush Park

Sage said that the class provided great information for people who participated and also created good connections between Flint residents from many different backgrounds.

“It was incredible to raise $20,000 in 30 days, that’s huge no matter what you’re doing,” he said. “Everybody working together to just build things for Flint and for our community and do something cool and new and unique, I just think humbling is the best word for it.”

For more information about upcoming events, visit the What’s Up Downtown calendar. Flint Drop Fest and IVAN both have websites with information. 
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Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.