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Giant 'H' to Light up 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

By Jeff Mays | June 23, 2014 7:10am
 Starting June 25, a letter H will be easy to spot in Harlem when artist Bentley Meeker installs a giant 66 foot wide and 35 foot high lighted 'H' from the Riverside Drive Viaduct at 125th Street and 12th Avenue.
The 'H' in Harlem
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HARLEM — You can't spell Harlem without an "H."

Starting June 25, the letter will be easy to spot uptown when artist Bentley Meeker installs a 66-foot wide and 35-foot high lighted 'H' from the Riverside Drive Viaduct at 125th Street and 12th Avenue.

"I know people love the idea of Harlem but they are scared of the actuality. I want to show people this is an awesome place," said Meeker, a long-time Harlem resident who said he loves the culture, diversity and history of the neighborhood.

Titled "The 'H' in Harlem," the project will hang until Sept. 25.

Several groups, including the West Harlem Art Fund, Community Board 9 and the 125th Street Business Improvement District, approached Meeker in 2012 about creating a large-scale installation that would highlight the cultural vibrancy of the area in West Harlem and celebrate its expected evolution.

Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said the "H" will help bring much-needed attention to the west side of 125th Street.

"That area has needed something to jumpstart things," she said.

"The west side, despite all its assets, doesn't get the same attention as Central Harlem and recently, East Harlem."

Those assets include access to the Hudson River, a developing restaurant and club scene and Columbia's Manhattanville campus expansion, which is expected to take place over the next 30 years.

"It's Harlem bling, and I think it will instill pride in the people of Harlem who really love Harlem," Askins said.

Savona Bailey-McClain, founder and CEO of the West Harlem Art Fund, pitched the idea of some sort of public art installation to Meeker. Her group is also putting on a series of light-related events underneath the viaduct to attract visitors, called "REPURPOSE Public Art Intervention."

"It's starting to work, but we need more support, a little design, public art, food ... creating a real scene takes a lot of work," Bailey-McClain said.

"I believe Harlem is turning a page and we need folks to believe."

Meeker said the idea for the giant "H" came to him in his sleep. Since most of his artistic endeavors — such as work he did at Burning Man, an annual festival in the Nevada desert — deal with juxtaposing different types of light, the "H" will follow the same pattern.

The giant letter will be surrounded by an oval-shaped aluminum truss and hung from the viaduct just above Dinosaur BBQ. The oval will be lit by white LED lights and the "H" will be lit by full spectrum light-emitting plasma.

"The latent gift to the viewer is they would develop relationships with light that has diametrically-opposed qualities," said Meeker.

"It'll also be really bright," he joked.

Despite the name of the project, Meeker rejected the idea that "H" has to absolutely represent the first letter in the name Harlem.

"It's not an 'H' for anything. It's just an 'H' and it's in Harlem," Meeker said. "It could be an 'H' for 'happening' or just a big, beautiful 'H.'"

The project was engineered with the help of structural engineering firm Theta Consulting and is built to withstand hurricane force winds. The lights are weather resistant and will run on a timer, turning on at night.

Bailey-McClain said Meeker deserves credit for his perseverance. He even shouldered some of the extra costs from his own pocket. The payoff will come Wednesday when the project is finally lit.

"When they turn it on," Meeker said, "I'm hoping you can see it from Jersey."