The cover of TIME magazine with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the cover with the words "His Legacy: The Fight for Equality"

Time Marches On

A career in lighting design can lead to some unusual experiences like living on a cruise ship in dry dock or spending the night in a shopping mall in Las Vegas. Every once in awhile, the experience opens your eyes.

Just before the pandemic shut down our society, TIME opened THE MARCH at Chicago’s Dusable Museum. Built by our friends at Chicago Scenic Studios, the exhibit was designed by a team that included Local Projects, MAD Systems and TIME. We got to come along to help make the lighting happen. Jessica Doyle, lead project designer, tells us more:

A large, mostly empty room with four rectangles of projected light on the floor divide the space into equal parts. There are some stars projected onto the walls. There is a pedestal in the middle of the room and a doorway off to the right.
The VR Room during load-in.

THE MARCH is an innovative and interactive experience that guides the participant through the historic march on Washington in 1963. You get the opportunity to hear personal accounts from people who attended and see video footage of the event itself. Aside from the traditional methods museums employ to present material, at the heart of the exhibit is a cutting edge virtual reality 3D experience. Participants are invited to put on a headset and goggles so that they may experience the March and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., himself giving the historic speech that remains ever so important today.

The view of a large, mostly empty room through a doorway, with four rectangles of projected light on the floor that divide the space into equal parts. There are some stars projected onto the walls.
Looking into the VR room from Soundscape.

We worked closely with the team to illuminate the world that was created to tell this powerful story. Light is often used to guide museum goers through exhibits, and THE MARCH is no exception. Discreet accent lighting is used to highlight graphics and create atmosphere. A unique challenge of the exhibit was lighting the room in which the VR experience occurs. So often we are designing lighting for people, but in this space, it was important to design the lighting with the requirements of the VR technology in mind. It is very sensitive to lighting conditions and requires lighting to be aimed at certain locations and dimmed to certain levels in order for the headsets and goggles to work properly. It was certainly a close collaboration with team members we don’t usually work with, such as computer systems designers.

Two of Martin Luther King Jr.'s children pose together at The March event
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s children attended the opening

Just as lighting is an integral part of allowing a home to function, lighting is an integral part of a museum. From aiming a fixture perfectly onto a text graphic to allow for easy reading to ensuring fixtures are dimmed appropriately to help influence how long participants spend in certain areas, lighting allows an exhibit to function how the exhibit designers and producers intend. If it’s done right, those open eyes will have an experience they’ll never forget.

Read the Chicago Tribune review.

Visit the official website.

Light Can Help You