Q&A: Josh Golden, board member for The Wabash Lights


Courtesy of Lisa Trifone

A rendering of what The Wabash Lights, “Chicago’s first interactive public art platform,” would look like. The group is currently in the process of fundraising to install the system.

Evan Robinson-Johnson, Reporter


The Wabash Lights (TWL) is an organization with the goal of creating “Chicago’s first interactive public art platform.” The group plans to install a full block of programmable LED lights on the underside of the Wabash-area El tracks in the Loop. Josh Golden, a member of the interactive design committee, has been a vocal advocate and supporter of TWL even before its Board of Directors existed. Golden attended Northwestern for two years as a member of the Class of 2002 before dropping out to focus on his start-up.

The Daily: Why did you decide to drop out of Northwestern?
Golden: My view was school would probably be school — it would be there for me when I wanted it. I thought I’d test the waters of entrepreneurship. I was looking to seize the moment. I’ve always liked to march to my own beat.

The Daily: What inspired you and Jordan Ho (Communication ’97) to start working with the Wabash Lights?
Golden: I met Jordan post-college. He and I were both working on similar projects, in some ways born out of our own startup failures. We met Jack Newell and Seth Unger, who are the founders of the Wabash Lights, and they were both very compelling. They were like, “We really want to do this thing, and there’s a big tech component,” and we thought, “Maybe we can help them figure out what that tech part is going to be.” When they decided they were really going to go for it, we were both asked to be early members of the board.

The Daily: What was the inspiration behind the project?
Golden: The idea that art in public spaces is typically made by an artist and consumed by the public. (The founders) really wanted to twist that on its head. What we want to do is have a platform on which anybody can make public art, and anyone else can consume it. They want to put the “you” back in public art.

The Daily: What is the current state of the project?
Golden: We are in a capital campaign to install the system. There was prototype that lived under the El for a year (that was) eight feet of light tube as opposed to an entire block. We were testing what happens to these lights under the unique conditions of being under a train track and enduring Chicago’s harsh winters.

The Daily: What is the impact of The Wabash Lights beyond its aesthetic as an art installation?
Golden: This project bridges the gap between creating an incredible imprint from an arts and entertainment perspective, but also bringing it home to some of the citizens who are not always getting their share of the success the city has. (The Wabash Lights) will allow students to see the real impact of what code can do — the intersectionality between an artist and an engineer. Showing people role models and a different ideas for what success looks like and building genuine curriculum around that is super important.

The Daily: What message would you give to current Northwestern students?
Golden: Students, generically speaking, are asked to major in things, but I think the most innovative work that’s going to be done in the next 50 to 100 years by humanity will be stuff that continues to blur the lines between classically defined genres and disciplines.

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