Thousands were expected to attend Aurora in the Dallas Arts District on Friday night. And thousands did come — some estimates say 50,000 people attended the single night event.
The event was presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center and supported by presenting sponsor energy provider Reliant. Its founding media partner is The Dallas Morning News.
As far as bringing people to the Arts District to be introduced to public media art, Aurora was an overwhelming success. But despite best efforts from organizers and infrastructure provided by the Center including an army of volunteers, the 19-block Arts District was overrun with attendees.
"We're so pleased about the amazing turnout this year, and we look forward to building on this year's success," said Monica Salazar, director of programming for Aurora. "As we move forward, we'll be working with our team to accommodate the growth of the event, as well as continuing to elevate the experience of our attendees in exciting and impactful ways."
Monthly late night events at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art were held in conjunction with Aurora. Such events at the three museums are routinely busy, but not so busy that crowds are not kept moving through exhibits.
Aurora included art from 80 artists representing 17 countries. All of the exhibitions were pieces of media art, meaning it involved something digital in either its aesthetics or material.
Pieces ranged in size from a modest-sized sculpture outside the Nasher by Bettina Pousttchi to building-sized projections. The centerpiece of the event was the projection "Sense/Coalescence" by 3_Search, an artist collaboration, on the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater.
The building-sized projection was easily enjoyed from many locations in the Arts District. Niall Thompson, a member of 3_Search, explained that the piece had a very focused "sweet spot," meaning the most optimal location to watch the projection.
"We are very considerate of where the audience is going to be," Thompson said. "With this piece, the sweet spot is actually very tight, with a lot of our work we make it very wide."
Because of this consideration the audience on Flora Street in front of the Wyly naturally had their gaze and attention focused in such a specific manner that many people could enjoy the art in the best way possible.
Although many took to social media to show how cool and exciting the exhibition was for Dallas, others expressed frustrations with lines and food and drink stands running out of items fairly early in the seven-hour run of the event.
Salazar, the director of of programming for Aurora, acknowledged that there were lines for vendors and for some exhibits.
This was the first year of the partnership between Aurora and AT&T PAC so there were bound to be areas that could be improved upon — such is the nature of large-scale events.
The event was free and open to the public and was marketed as a street-festival style event for media art. People of all ages were encouraged to come, as they had been the for the three previous Aurora events in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The event moved from the Dallas Heritage Village to the Arts District in 2011, where it has been held since. This year's event included VIP areas, tickets for which were $150 and only available in advance.
Sean Miller, a Dallas-based digital media artist, exhibited at Aurora on Friday and in 2013. His exhibit, "Abri," was located on the east wall of the Dallas City Performance Hall. It was a sculpture against the building that created a cave-like area for visitors to walk underneath. The projection mapping he created was displayed on the outside and inside of the sculpture as well as above it on building wall.
"I had just the right amount of people coming to my piece," Miller said. "Because I was on that corner, it never felt overcrowded."
He said a number of people came and sat on the grass that had been designed to work with the piece, which is what he intended. However, he did not feel like he could leave his art unattended for fear of his piece being injured.
"My piece had landscaping built in and there was a logic to how people would interact with it, but some intoxicated people were trudging through the tall grasses in which I had run cables and they would rip them out of the ground," Miller said.
He said the ability to interact and educate that many people about his work was worthwhile. And something that he thinks he could do even more if the event were expanded.
"I think that it could be extended over a couple of days," Miller said. "The fact that it is open to the public is great and I think that is one of its main selling points — everyone talks about it being accessible to everyone."
Salazar said that she had enjoyed the feedback from artists that they did not know what to expect. Both Miller and Thompson, of 3_Search, shared this sentiment. Having 50,000 people view a piece of art is going to be a different experience for an artist than showing in a gallery. The experience is one that influences the artist and how they develop later work.
"You see people interact with the pieces in ways that you would never expect," she said.