Milton Glaser's Bright Idea

Building a city of light to shine on the GOP convention

No one can beat Milton Glaser when it comes to expressing his love of New York City to the world. He is the man who created the iconic "I ♥ NY" logo. First used in 1977, it's still the logo of New York's tourism campaign (run by the New York State Department of Economic Development) and is quite possibly the most imitated logo ever.

After 9-11, Glaser adapted his logo to "I ♥ NY More Than Ever" and added a stain on what he has called the "lower west side" of the heart. Glaser sent the new version to the Daily News, which printed close to a million copies as wraparounds. The copies were hung up in windows all over the city, especially by kids from the School of Visual Arts, where Glaser is a board member. At that point he was "encouraged by the fact there were entry points into the culture even if you have no money and you don't have anything but ideas as a way of reaching people." His experience with the poster and with work on the Nation's button campaign drew his attention to what he calls a "language of opposition."

After the Republican party announced that this year's convention would invade NYC, Glaser began to worry less about congestion and more about confrontation—between protesters and cops. He didn't buy the Republicans' "cover story" that the decision to bring the convention to New York was to show support for 9-11. Glaser says, "Karl Rove recognized that the disruption in the streets would accrue to their benefit. And that's why I am so concerned about finding an alternative way to express our disaffection."

His answer is to light up the sky. "What needs to be confirmed by some people is the fact that New York is the place where all the lunatics live, and the sense of chaos and disorder and irresponsibility that would be exemplified would be used to justify a move by some people to support Bush . . . It would be very nice to avoid those images and to diminish the chance for conflict and rage but at the same time, the opposition to Bush has to be manifested in a strong, vital, and imaginative way."

Glaser has organized a protest—one that requires no permit and can receive no complaints of crushing grass—called "Light Up the Sky." On August 30, from dusk to dawn, those who wish to participate can leave the lights on in their apartments and/or congregate in the streets with candles, flashlights, and glow sticks. His idea has been disparaged by the New York Press's Page Two, which stated that protest is not "supposed to resemble a Japanese water candle ritual" and likened it to "a light bulb joke." Some graphic designers speaking on the online forum at HOWdesign.com joked about the protest triggering another blackout.

Nevertheless, Glaser sees his idea as "a way of getting past some of the obvious difficulties of organizing in a conventional way and diminishing the possibility of scenes of violence and rage that seem to be typical of what the left does. I believe intelligence is merely an understanding of your own self-interest; in order to accomplish our goal it seemed to me both a benign and effective way to make a statement."

For those who wish to join, Glaser asks them to participate, spread the word, and "treat the convention with benign neglect . . . Let it pass and let it disappear into history . . . As far as we are concerned it doesn't exist."

 
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