Chuck Brown Memorial Park is almost ready to go-go


(Jackie Braitman)

The Chuck Brown Memorial Park, which opens Friday at 20th and Franklin streets NE, was originally supposed to have a 900-seat amphitheater, but the surrounding neighborhood wanted something quieter. That left the park’s planners with a dilemma: How do you pay homage to the godfather of go-go without making a peep? Jackie Braitman, the Takoma Park, Md.-based sculptor whose design will occupy the park’s northeast corner, says she “tried to capture the idea of movement with the metal fins, and the call-and-response nature of go-go with interactive lights.” Here’s how:

1. This 16-foot-tall figure represents Brown. Braitman created the illusion of movement by giving the sculpture slats that, like Venetian blinds, seem transparent when viewed straight on, but solid when viewed from an angle. In the final version, one side of the slats will picture Brown leaning forward, holding a mic toward the audience.

2. Multicolored lights (not pictured) will begin flashing silently as you enter the sculpture. If you play the song “Chuck Baby” on your phone, you’ll notice the lights grooving along to the music. Sync the song to the four large lights near the back of the stage — they represent four descending notes played by a trombone eight seconds into the song.

3. Steel circles, about the size of dinner plates (not shown, though one will be near Brown’s feet), will trigger more lights. Two quick taps on a plate might tell a large stage light to blink twice in response. Do it again, and small lights on the floor will twinkle back at you. “We’re trying to encourage you to stay and play with the sculpture,” Braitman says.

4. Brown’s family asked that this generic guitar be replaced with one more like a Gibson, Brown’s instrument of choice. The metal shop that forged the piece made it with the neck facing the wrong way. Before it shipped, a musician caught the error. “I would have been so dead if Chuck were playing a backwards guitar,” Braitman says.

5. The piece was originally going to use solar panels to power the lights, but it got moved to a shadier corner of the park. Now, the sculpture is jacked into D.C.’s electrical grid and is sheltered by a canopy that’s more reminiscent of a stage than the solar panels were.

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Sadie Dingfelder will write about anything, but she especially loves art, science, wildlife and quirky people.
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Rudi Greenberg · August 21, 2014