Anything can be an artistic medium.
It can be paint, clay, or, in the case of the Beech Hill Beacons, 1,200 students, faculty, staff and volunteers.
On Thursday, they were the “paint” for Daniel Dancer, a West Coast-based conceptual artist who created a nearly 200-by-200-foot lighthouse for the Dorchester District 2 elementary school.
“There’s never a dry run,” he said. “It’s like performance art. The performance is the art.”
Students wearing black, white, yellow or blue T-shirts took their places on an image outlined in mulch, kneeling and hunching over with their heads bowed, as Dancer chronicled the event through video and still images from 140 feet above.
“This kind of art only makes sense from the sky, which is a big metaphor,” Dancer said. “‘Skysight’ is a word I came up with about the importance of seeing the big picture view of the world and using our imagination to rise above our problems. Then we can look down on them and see how everything fits together.”
Dancer said he calls his company Art for the Sky “because we rarely give the sky anything other than pollution.”
Like many of his creations, the lighthouse sported the number “350,” the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that many scientists say is the safe upper limit in the atmosphere. He said the Beech Hill artwork is “shining a light on the situation.”
Dancer spent two days preparing for the photo shoot, involving students along the way.
“Learning is not always about sitting and doing work,” said Beech Hill records system operator Suzanne Loving, who helped coordinate the event. “Sometimes they can learn more from experiences like this than they do in class.”
Dancer was an aerial photographer for environmental groups when he “started thinking how cool it would be to have people be paint drops in images,” he said.
Since 2000, he has visited seven countries and 26 states to create artwork. The average project involves 500 people. His largest was 5,000 students in Holland in 2009.
Figuring out the size of his art is “just a math problem,” he said. “I allow about 2½ square feet per person and it always works out right.”
The only other South Carolina school he has visited is Rock Hill’s Northside Elementary School of the Arts, where 500 students formed a red-cockaded woodpecker in 2009.
His visit to Beech Hill is scheduled to end today with two assemblies where he will present a video.
“When they are part of it on the ground, they can’t make sense of what it is,” he said. “Putting the video together and sharing it is my favorite part. That’s what people remember.”
The event was part of the school’s Cultural Arts Week, which also included visits from several other artists. Rene Harris, principal of the award-winning school, said she felt Art for the Sky fit perfectly with Beech Hill and its mission.
The $2,700 to bring Dancer to Summerville was funded by grants and the school PTA, which will sell copies of the video and the image. Mulch, hay bales and the use of a crane were donated.
For more information, visit artforthesky.com.