Justin Brookhart, BLlNK’s first-ever executive director, is just as excited for the event’s return as the rest of us. Probably a little more—because not only will this be his first outing at the helm of the four-day festival, but it’ll be his first time seeing it live.
A recent transplant from Austin, Texas, with his wife Erin, Brookhart heard about BLINK from friends in this area in 2019 but didn’t get to check out the event in person. No matter. Leading the festival has given him the best crash course on the light-filled extravaganza anyone could ask for. With a background in the film and film-adjacent festival and production industry, he knows how to scale up for success without losing the plot, as it were.
“BLINK is a public event done at a large, spectacle scale, but at its heart it’s an art event,” says Brookhart. “And to have as much awareness and recognition as BLINK already has after two versions [in 2017 and 2019] is pretty special, as is the fact that this community and region cares so much about a gigantic public event. In other cities, you have to beat people with a stick to get them to come out to a public art event.”
Brookhart says he learned quickly that Cincinnati likes celebrating anything that’s its own. “I love that you don’t need an excuse to go out and celebrate here, but you’ll find one,” he says. “And I think there’s a deep history of Cincinnati supporting the arts that’s really unique. That’s one of the main reasons an event like BLINK is able to exist.”
What are you excited about for BLINK this year?
I’m experiencing it and building it for the first time, so just literally seeing all the pieces come together and having all of these collaborators in town is what feels the most exciting for me. I’m excited to see what people spark to. There’s always the performance or piece that people think will be, Oh my gosh, everyone’s going to freak out about this, but then there’s this small, intimate moment and it’s the guy playing the piano at the installation north of Washington Park. There are always those unexpected things. So I’m excited to figure out what will hit big that we didn’t plan to be a main attraction.
What’s the best-kept BLINK secret?
In 2019, there was the Cincy Nice Social House that took place, a more reflective interior space that was sort of that group’s experiment to create a bit more of a moment of reprieve, calm, and reflection inside of the BLINK ecosystem. Some people heard about it, but a lot of people didn’t, so I think it was a great kind of secret in 2019, and Cincy Nice is working to bring that back this year. I’d say one of the best kept secrets about BLINK is there are opportunities for more reflective and interior moments outside of the big light art spectacle. I think finding those will be a fun part of the weekend.
What’s proving to be the most challenging building to work with?
This is fun to explain. There are challenging spaces from a technical standpoint that both our technical producers and the artists have to work around. Challenges they run into are things like, Are there power lines we have to worry about shooting around? Is there a lot of ambient light around the building that we’re trying to project on? Where are you going to place the projector, and does it require street closure or booking out a parking lot?
Then there are challenges such as projecting into a residential building, like the American Building on Central Parkway. It’s best if you talk to those residents and make Sure that they’re OK with us blasting light into their homes for four hours a night four nights in a row. The American Building is a particularly challenging one for us this year because it’s so big. And it’s residential versus a building like the Contemporary Arts Center, which is challenging on the technical side because it’s so multifaceted, but that’s a different challenge. And of course there are just the basic challenges from a logistics and event organizing standpoint.
What’s the can’t-miss experience of BLINK 2022?
I think the opening night parade is our can’t-miss experience just because it’s the opportunity for so many people to see themselves inside the event. It’s the kickoff, first of all, the first night and the opening celebration. It’s everyone’s chance to participate in BLINK—if you’re not that BLINK artist or you’re not a projection artist or a musician but you’re a dance group, you’re part of a drum corps, or you have a group that came up with a fun costume idea, you can see yourself as part of BLINK by joining in the opening parade. So many people tell me it’s their favorite part of the weekend.
A new and different kind of experience this year is we’re bringing our first drone show to BLINK. So there will be 300 drones “performing” over the Ohio River. That’s sort of our response to the Roebling Suspension Bridge installation in 2019. We love the idea of maintaining this symbolic connection for people on both sides of the river to look at and enjoy simultaneously. We’re working with a drone team and a local design firm to have a drone show twice per night all four nights. People will be able to view it from both riverfronts: Smale Park, The Banks, and Covington Plaza.
What do you like to do when you’re not working on BLINK?
The Esquire Theater is probably where you can find me on most weekends when I have free time. With a background working for a movie theater organization, I love movies. I live right there in Clifton, and the fact that I can walk or ride my bike to a movie theater is sort of my ideal dream come true.