For the Milwaukee Art Museum's 44th annual Bal du Lac fundraiser on May 3, the venue's Quadracci Pavilion became a canvas for lighting designer Bryan Brunclik of Milwaukee-based Clearwing Productions Inc. Using a combination of the new Vari*Lite® VL3000 Spot luminaires and Vari*Lite Series 2000 Spot and Wash fixtures, Brunclik painted the magnificent structure with brilliant light, setting the mood and theme as patrons arrived for the evening's events.

The Quadracci Pavilion, which sits on the edge of Lake Michigan, was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and complements its aquatic setting, evoking images of boats, birds, and other marine life. The prominent feature of the structure is the Brise Soleil, a sunscreen that is raised and lowered throughout the day to provide shade to the interior of the museum. The Brise Soleil also creates an amazing urban sculpture. (The Quadracci Pavilion itself is a work of art, having been named the number one design of 2001 by Time magazine. Also, Dale R. Boyce of Ring & DuChateau Inc., David Kahler of Kahler Slater Architects, and George S. Sexton III of George Sexton Associates recently won a GE Award for their lighting of the Brise Soleil.)

The exhibit at the museum at the time was African sculpture, and the fundraiser staff wanted the event to reflect this theme. Brunclik used four VL3000 Spot luminaires to bathe the massive Brise Soleil in washes of natural earth tones such as ambers, reds, and greens, with gobos to provide texture. Six VL2000 Wash luminaires were situated underneath a giant patio area. Each luminaire was placed at the base of a column that runs up the side of the building and arches outward. The bright colors from the VL2000 Wash fixtures lit the individual columns and spread out across the patio ceiling under which visitors mingled throughout the evening. About the VL3000s, Brunclik says, “They're great. They covered a very big area for me. I like the colors, the gobos, that all three gobo wheels are rotating — you can spin any gobo you want. The wings were sitting there with a real slow gobo spin on them.”

Clearwing had about three weeks to prepare for the event; also, the company donated its services to the museum. Clearwing lit this building last summer for a Major League Baseball All-Star Game event, and the company's lighting operations manager, Aaron Hubbard, found the previous experience to be helpful for this project, given the time and budget constraints. “We had seen how it was lit from prior locations, and we knew where power was and how we had to deal with it logistically,” he says. “Because it's such a unique space and everything is white, there's really no place to hide anything. Everything is very free-flowing with a lot of curves and not a lot of crevices, so cable management was a big issue, and walking through with the planning individuals about what spaces the patrons were going to have access to really helped as well. Being very budget conscious, we focused on the parts where there was the primary traffic flow.”

The team faced a couple of challenges for this project. First, the Quadracci Pavilion is not a traditional entertainment venue. “With a lot of marble floors and white walls, they really don't want a lot of stuff pushed in and out of that space, and it's really not designed to do so, so loading in was not an easy task,” Hubbard says. Another wrinkle was the fact that the event took place on the first Saturday of the month. “On the first Friday of every month, the museum is open until 9pm,” Hubbard explains, “and because there was another party going on in there, they had to clear the space before we could start working inside. We started outside at 9pm, we made it inside by 10:30, and by 1am we were done setting up — not so bad; we had it pretty well planned. Then Bryan was there programming until about 7:30 in the morning.”

Brunclik's night might have gone a bit quicker if he had been able to do some preprogramming. “The whole idea was to do this ahead of time in WYSIWYG,” Hubbard says, “but because there's no profile for the VL3000 in WYSIWYG, we were unable to do so. That was unfortunate. And we have two other projects that we'd like to do some preprogramming for.” (Gil Densham, president of Cast Lighting Ltd., says, “We have not been able to get hold of a VL3000 unit from Vari-Lite. We have been working very closely with them and have been assured that we will get access soon. When we do get a unit to model, we will get the profile written and have a hot fix sent out. Working with the manufacturer to have the model done before the product hits the marketplace would have solved this problem.”)

In addition to lighting the exterior of the Quadracci Pavilion, Clearwing also supplied the lighting system for the activities inside, which included a cocktail reception, live auction, silent auction, formal dinner, and live entertainment. “The ceiling shoots straight up and it's covered with windows,” Brunclik says. “You can light that from the inside to help the effect on the outside. It looks great on the inside, too, because there's white beams shooting in between all the windows. It's real elegant. It was kind of a challenge covering the inside with all the windows with the amount of fixtures I had, so it was nice to get the zoom on the VL2000s.”

Clearwing provided four VL2000 Wash luminaires, four VL2000 Spot fixtures, and 12 VL5 luminaires as well as 30 ETC Source Four PARs, all split between two 20'-high, 30'-wide bridges. (The complete lighting system, both interior and exterior, was controlled through a Jands Event 416 control console.) “I had 12 VL5s covering a white backdrop with color-changing and shapes in them once in a while, and four VL2000 Spot units throwing gobos on the backdrop behind the band, just real subtle. I didn't know what the act was going to be, so I just decided to do backlight looks because I didn't have any frontlight really, other than Source Four PARs, so it was just general washes and backdrop looks. It turned out really nice and it looked really good. It all came together really well.”

This was the first project to employ the new Vari*Lite VL3000s. “Clearwing actually acquired the very first ones off the line,” says Hubbard. “We got the first serial numbers out of the factory, which I'm really excited about. I'm an eight-year veteran of Vari-Lite before coming over to Clearwing, so it's very exciting for me to be involved in that new product line from the inception.”

Contact the author at aslingerland@primediabusiness.com.