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Bloomingdale Signs Outfits Chicago for ColorJam

Vivid vinyl extravaganza becomes Chicago’s largest public-art display



Throughout its history, Chicago built its hard-nosed reputation as the “city with broad shoulders” (as characterized by poet Carl Sandburg in 1916) through its legacy as a meatpacking, manufacturing and textile-production center. However, the city’s tough reputation grew in tandem with a counterbalancing artistic affinity. Chicago’s world-class symphony orchestra, the Art Institute of Chicago (one of the top U.S. art schools) and the Second City improv-comedy troupe (Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert are alums) attest to the city’s diverse culture and personality.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, an organization that represents the interests of the diverse businesses within the district (which spans from the Chicago River to Congress Pkwy.), wanted a colorful backdrop to create buzz and attract more Loop tourism. The idea evolved into Color Jam, which, at 75,000 sq. ft., became the largest public-art installation in Chicago’s history. The project will remain in place at the intersection of State and Adams Sts. until the end of September.

The Loop Alliance has commissioned past public-art installations, such as Tony Tasset’s 30-ft.-tall eye sculpture, which was in place two summers ago. Jessica Stockholder, a well-known artist and sculptor who currently serves as chairwoman for the University of Chicago’s visual-arts department, designed the playful ColorJam typography and composed the brilliant color palette.

“The arts community in Chicago is both large and intimate, and I’m proud to be part of it,” she said. “My goal was to create something that could be part of the city, but not swallowed up by it. I enjoy that ColorJam slows people down to experience colors and surfaces that are unusual downtown.”

The Loop Alliance approached Bloomingdale Signs (Bloomingdale, IL), a Signs by Tomorrow franchisee, about executing the project. Alan C. Schellerer, co-owner of Signs by Tomorrow, said, “They outlined the scope and the budget. It was up to us to work with these parameters. To complete the job, we took a very thorough look at the most cost-effective materials and processes.”

He continued, “One of the biggest challenges was color matching. We had to maintain consistency with three colors on four different materials – two of which are perforated, and required more careful layout – with three different coatings: eco- [applied with an HP DesignJet 9000s] and full-solvent ink [decorated via an HP Scitex XLJet], and Benjamin Moore 122 latex floor-enamel paint. We traveled to the jobsite and looked at the colors against their respective buildings and sidewalks.”


The concrete graphics were applied with 12,000 sq. ft. of brightly colored Asphalt Art non-slip material.Instead of printing the Asphalt Art media, Bloomingdale opted to paint the sidewalk graphics because extremely heavy foot traffic caused scuffs and scratches, which would’ve necessitates repeated printing and been cost-prohibitive (laminates would’ve been too slippery for the surface). So, Bloomingdale worked with Asphalt Art’s manufacturer, Continental Grafix, and the Chicago Dept. of Transportation to ensure paint could be effectively and safely applied to the material. Thus, it could be easily retouched when pedestrians and cars marred the surface. They coated it with Benjamin Moore 122 latex floor-enamel paint. 

Bloomingdale printed roughly 20,000 sq. ft. of window graphics on Clear Focus Imaging’s JetVue® 50% perforated material, which it printed on the DesignJet. The shop fabricated concrete building wraps with Ultraflex’s 10-oz. Supreme mesh banner material, which it printed on its 16-ft.-wide HP Scitex XL Jet printer and RF-welded into five behemoth banners that span approximately 4,000 sq. ft. apiece. Fourteen installers from Bloomingdale’s staff teamed with 10 volunteer artists sent by the Loop Alliance to apply the project’s many components.

A cascade of publications covered the ColorJam installation. The New York Times and Huffington Post, among many other high-profile outlets, published stories about the event, and NBC filmed a segment which was broadcast on Rock Center with Brian Williams. The Alliance arranged numerous events to coincide with a series of musical and dance performances, as well as family-friendly areas where visitors can create their own art. To culminate the installation, the Alliance is sponsoring Expo Chicago, an art fair that will take place on Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Once again, when signage is allowed to help create a distinctive destination, benefits for the greater community follow.



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