Art Exhibit in Jonathan Edwards College Sheds Light on Energy Use

November 11, 2015

How many lightbulbs does it take to screw in a Yale undergrad’s inspiration? According to a recent art exhibit in Jonathan Edwards College, 673.

The materials for the exhibit came from a 2014-2015 Yale College Lightbulb Swap. While most Yale-maintained facilities use efficient fluorescent or LED fixtures, many students still had incandescent bulbs in lamps they brought to their dorm rooms. This unnecessarily increased energy use in residential buildings.

To tackle this issue, students in Yale’s Sustainability Service Corps (SSC) went door-to-door through all residential spaces, offering to swap LED bulbs purchased through Yale’s Energy Solutions Fund for the inefficient incandescent bulbs. Since an LED bulb uses only 20% of the energy of an incandescent light, each bulb switched helped to chip away at the overall building energy usage.

The initiative swapped out 673 inefficient lightbulbs across campus for LEDs, a significant energy saving effort, identified and solved by students. The switch is estimated to have saved $20,000 in energy costs and 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the course of one year. But the swap also generated a solid waste problem – what was the SSC supposed to do with all of these old lightbulbs?

Enter Katie Colford, Calhoun College ‘16. Her vision was to use these old bulbs for educational and artistic purposes. She set up an exhibit in the Jonathon Edwards College (JE) art gallery, using materials such that they could be reused. The lightbulbs are attached with an easily removable glue, so the bulbs can be taken out and used for any other purpose once the sculpture is removed from JE. Inspired by the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt, the sculpture aims to take a fairly static hallway and convert it into a dynamic experience.

The shine of the reflective tape shifts and moves as one passes through the hall, translating each possible viewing point into a unique experience. The bulbs introduce a further element of complexity to the piece. Since each bulb has two distinct ends, they add a directionality to the piece, adding tension to the silver lines crisscrossing through the halls.

The exhibit further promotes the human side of sustainability. “Before the opening…I came down here, and there were a few people from facilities sitting here. We got to talking, and they told me about how they’d come hang out down here…it was really touching,” said Colford. Beyond encouraging people to think about energy use and upcycling, the exhibit generates a social space where people are able to come together, promoting emotional and social well-being.

Sustainability Service Corps students are continuing their efforts to improve lighting efficiency in student rooms throughout Yale College and raise awareness of campus sustainability efforts.