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Big Ten Tournament Welcomed With Special Loop Art

THE LOOP — If anyone could figure out where the Big Ten basketball championship and public art intersect, it's the Chicago Loop Alliance.

The organization dedicated to beautifying the Loop welcomed the 12 teams competing at the United Center starting Thursday by revamping "Lightscape" with a sporty twist.

"Lightscape" is a collection of 18 multi-colored illuminated poles and accompanying soundtracks that have been scattered along State Street since November 2011.

Loop Alliance Executive Director Michael Edwards says the installation has about six rotating themes annually, mostly celebrating holidays and seasons.

For the Big Ten championships, sounds of the game were added.

"We asked for the fight songs from each of the teams, and got those from the alumni associations, and we decided to add some basketball sounds —  you know, the cheering crowds, a dribbling ball" to replace the existing soundtrack, Edwards said.

"There's 144 banners that are up on the street [representing] the teams in the Big Ten conference," he added.

The tournament is sold out, conference officials say. The attendence may challenge the United Center's tournament record of 109,769 set in 2001, an average of 21,954 per session, Crain's Chicago Business reported.

Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel estimated that hosting the tournament was worth $40 million in economic activity. "We have 10,000 rooms in our hotels sold out," he said.

The new artwork on State Street is part of a collaboration with Choose Chicago, the city's tourism agency. Edwards said he hopes the decorations will make visitors in town for the games feel welcome.

The Loop Alliance hopes to auction off the school logo banners on eBay once the installation is removed, with proceeds being used to help support efforts to make the area more attractive.

"Not only can [fans] get their picture taken under the team banner on State Street, but they can actually buy the banner and keep it as memorabilia," Edwards said. "We're hoping for some community pride, a little bit of team competition, maybe even some dance competitions [on State Street], that will just make the whole thing feel more alive."