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UW-Eau Claire Foundation helps Blugolds shine light on Eau Claire landmark

| Erin Finneman

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation is partnering in a unique project to shed light on a landmark in downtown Eau Claire — and provide UW-Eau Claire students with a learning opportunity they won't find anywhere else in the Midwest.

Earlier this year, the Foundation contributed $10,000 to the project to install programmable lighting on the Phoenix Park pedestrian bridge in downtown Eau Claire. The Foundation also  invites UW-Eau Claire alumni and friends to contribute to its Phoenix Park Bridge-Lighting Fund in support of the project.

"This project will not only brighten downtown Eau Claire and literally shed light on all the growth and beautification that's happened and is still happening there, but it will engage UW-Eau Claire students in a meaningful and exciting way," said Kimera Way, UW-Eau Claire Foundation president. "Students are helping in the lighting design process and will gain incredible hands-on experience as they become responsible for programming the bridge lights once they are operational."

So far about $200,000 has been raised for the $300,000 project initiated by the Eau Claire Noon Rotary Club and Downtown Eau Claire Inc. 

Jason Jon Anderson, assistant director of conferences and event production at UW-Eau Claire, is fine-tuning plans to bring the Phoenix Park bridge-lighting project to life. Anderson, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree in technical theater and design as well as a master of fine arts degree in lighting design, has worked on lighting production for music festivals around the world.

The bridge-lighting project took off in 2015 when Anderson was presented with plans from the Eau Claire Noon Rotary Club and Downtown Eau Claire Inc. to add LED lights to the Phoenix Park pedestrian bridge. He attended the initial meeting and saw the plans being pitched needed some revising. The initial plan was estimated to cost close to $1 million, but Anderson worked with the teams and used his expertise to form a new plan that decreased the cost to $300,000.

The design selected for the Phoenix Park footbridge involves installing 324 LED RGB lighting fixtures, with each fixture having 256 million color-mixing options, Anderson said.

"The Rotary and DECI were passionate about lighting this bridge because bridges are such important landmarks in Eau Claire," Anderson said. "This bridge connects two vital areas of economic growth in Eau Claire, and I think lighting it up will help bridge the geographical gap between those two places.”

Anderson’s knowledge and background in lighting have been central to the project, but he is quick to point out the project would not be possible without the help of its sponsors. 

“I was pleasantly surprised to see such a generous donation from the Foundation go into this project,” Anderson said. “My primary role at the university is to help generate revenue to UW-Eau Claire through management of the Conference, Camps and Event Production operation, including creating revenue-generating partnerships like the one in place with the Eaux Claires Festival. So seeing how the Foundation was willing to donate to this project meant a lot to me. They work hard to make the dreams of students and faculty come true.”

As part of his responsibilities at UW-Eau Claire, Anderson oversees and mentors students who work as audiovisual production specialists in support of events in performance venues on and off campus. These students, along with theatre arts students studying lighting design, will be responsible for programming the bridge lights.

“I’m not here to build my résumé, but that of my students,” Anderson said. “When I am done with the bridge lighting design I will hand it off to them. Many of the students involved will be part of the theatre arts department, and this bridge will allow them the opportunity to be involved within the community, explore their passion for lighting and work with the first real-world light lab for architectural lighting in the Midwest.”

Gifts to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation Phoenix Park Bridge-Lighting Fund can be made online at connect.uwec.edu/donate.  For more information, call the Foundation at 715-836-5630.