New interactive art installation in front of Ackland Art Museum engages community

Janice K. Johnson


The Ackland Art Museum installed a new interactive art piece, or “spatial gesture,” on its terrace that features magenta arches and iridescent glass– inviting Chapel Hill community members to stop and look. 

The eye-catching art features several arches that extend from the ground and frame reflective panels that change color based on light and movement. When backlit by red, green and blue lights, the panels capture shadows of those standing in front of them. 

White platforms at each end of the arches allow visitors to sit, perform, eat or just talk with friends.

The Urban Conga, a design studio based in Brooklyn, N.Y., created the installation, called pARC, as an open-ended space for the Chapel Hill community. It was installed on June 18 and will remain there until July 2024.

Maeghann Coleman is a designer on the Urban Conga team and helped create the installation. An artist and architect, she has been there since its start in 2013. 

She said her team tried to work together to mesh the concepts of both the arches and seating elements with the shadow play. 

“We’re taking art off the pedestal and giving people the opportunity to interact in the way that they would want to,” Coleman said. 

Coleman said she hopes the piece will be used by visitors and help them create new relationships with people who they don’t normally interact with.

Ryan Swanson, who serves as The Urban Conga studio’s founder and creative director, mirrored Coleman’s desire for the installation to foster community. 

“Within the space, we tried to create multiple tools that people could kind of use to create, inspire and really learn and listen to each other and really become this communal space,” Swanson said.

According to The Urban Conga’s website, the art should invite people off the street and into the museum and University. The goal of the installation is to attract passersby to the museum to view, relax, laugh and — most importantly — play.

“We really focus on sparking community interaction and social activity through open-ended play,” Swanson said. “So through our work, we see play as a tool to bring people together within the public space.”

The Ackland Art Museum is hosting a sunset celebration at the pARC this Friday at 5 p.m. where attendees can make their own pARC-inspired iridescent suncatchers, relax with friends and family and explore the museum’s galleries. 

On Sunday, July 24, the museum is hosting “Ackland F.A.M.: Play at the pARC”. From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., families can grab an activity kit and take a summery scavenger hunt through the galleries. In the evening, there will be a pARC-inspired movement workshop led by choreographer Killian Manning and will feature special musical guest Dan Levine on cello. 

Katie Ziglar, the director of the Ackland Art Museum, said the exhibit is meant for all age groups to enjoy. 

“We have our values as a museum,” says Ziglar. “We have three they are rigor, playfulness and responsiveness. This is right up our alley, our playful ally.”

She said pARC is the third installation in a series of interactive installations.

“The first was some beautiful turning, spinning that people could ride around on with different colors made by a Mexican design group,” Ziglar said. 

The second was an “installation based on ancient Arabian water vessel in our collection,” according to Ziglar. 

She said that she hopes the new installation brings new audiences to the Ackland, and that it inspires people to want to learn more about the museum and what it can offer the public. 

“I think the biggest thing is showcasing the value of play and how it can be used in different ways in different spaces to people together,” Swanson said. “And that’s really the true essence of our work, is highlighting that play is a valuable tool.” 

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