The Benjamin Franklin Parkway—the boulevard that houses some of Philadelphia’s best cultural destinations, is turning 100. To celebrate the city’s own Champs-Élysées, the Parkway Council is planning Parkway 100, a year of activities to commemorate the centennial. Exhibitions, events, community gatherings, and promotions will occur from September of this year through November 2018.

One of the first components is a luminous public art installation by internationally renowned artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Fireflies consists of 27 pedal operated carts, or “pedicabs,” that are adorned with dozens of handmade lanterns. The creations, which vary in shape and size and color, bounce and jostle as the pedicab moves, creating a flickering effect like that mimics fireflies.  

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT

Each pedicab features an arrangement of lanterns that are wired, suspended, and outfitted with LED bulbs. Whimsical, colorful figures like ice cream cones, helicopters, aliens, stars, and panda bears accompany visitors as the cabs escort them down the Parkway. When dusk rolls around, the lights glimmer and float in a kaleidoscope of lights.

Details: Available Thursday through Sunday evenings from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. All pedicab ride are free, and visitors can either sign up in advance or walk up and wait in line for a ride. The cabs will carry visitors from Sister Cities Park to Iroquois Park.

Open:  September 14th through October 8th

THE STORY BEHIND FIREFLIES

Guo-Qiang’s vision for the 1,000 handmade lanterns was borne from a childhood memory. The artist play with lanterns when he was a young boy, using candles to light them. Because of the medium, Guo-Qiang had to be particularly careful lighting lanterns for traditional festivals in his Chinense hometown. Today, his interactive project is a way to have fun with lanterns like those he created as a child—with fire-resistant lanterns that he built in China. “The work will be at once grounded, aesthetic, and transcendental,” according to the artist.

Guo-Qiang is known around the world for his creative projects, such as designing the fireworks for the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. In 2009, as part of a collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fabric Workshop, his display “Fallen Blossoms” showcased a series of gunpowder drawings and a fireworks spectacle.

OTHER HAPPENINGS FROM PARKWAY 100

In addition to Cai Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies display, dozens of other events and activities are planned for the Parkway 100 celebration. One in particular to look out for is a public art installation by Jennifer Steinkamp called “Winter Fountains,” public art installation with fountains glowing with video projections. Be sure to check out the Parkway 100 website as well as the Association for Public Art for more information.