Ignite Broward 2023: Free interactive art show to light up Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach

This week at MAD Arts Gallery in Dania Beach, Boston composer Maria Finkelmeier wants visitors to paint streaks of color on a projection screen with an unlikely musical instrument: the marimba.

Not literally, of course. The marimba, whose warm percussive tones are coaxed by striking wooden bars with mallets, will be hooked up to fancy sensors. Those sensors feed into computer software, which render subtle body movements — a twist of the wrist, a swaying hip — into animated poetry on a nearby screen: colors ripple, mutate and rush forward like a waterfall.

“I call them ‘sonic hugs,’ " says Finkelmeier, who teaches creative entrepreneurship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “Every performance is different. I want to invite people to play the marimba, so they see how warm acoustic sounds create these vivid musical shapes.”

Her musical artwork, dubbed “Melody Figments,” will be projected on the wall of the MAD Arts Gallery as part of the third annual IGNITE Broward, which will feature 11 light- and sound-based digital artworks and sculptures from eight local and international artists from Jan. 25-29. IGNITE, billed as an “immersive light projection experience” — think interactive art show — is part of Fort Lauderdale Art & Design Week, a collection of exhibits and live music aimed at driving up tourism to art venues in January.

Six of the interactive artworks will be displayed at MAD Arts Gallery, while the remaining five will be at Esplanade Park in Fort Lauderdale. For the full schedule, go to IGNITEBroward.com.

One free kickoff event will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Museum of Discovery & Science, 401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale. Another, set for 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Jan. 27 at MAD Arts Gallery, will include artist meet-and-greets, live performances, a poetry reading and a panel about non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Marc Aptakin, MAD Arts Gallery’s founder and CEO, says most of the IGNITE Broward works, like Finkelmeier’s “Melody Figments,” use projection mapping software. That’s where video footage is mapped onto a screen, morphing common objects — buildings, flowers, even water — into animated, vivid color projections that interact with humans using computer sensors.

Projection mapping surged in popularity in 2020 with so-called “immersive experiences” of Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Claude Monet. New museums in Miami opened that capitalize on the trend, including Superblue and the Paradox Museum, which debuted Dec. 15 in Wynwood.

These sound-and-light shows began as a gambit to lure pandemic audiences back to galleries with works by long-dead artists, but they’re now a frontier for young experimental artists, Aptakin says.

“You could go with your grandma to these shows,” Aptakin says. “The interactivity was new and that dragged people straight out of the pandemic. People have a desire for a different type of art. These are kids who have grown up in front of screens their entire lives. And honestly, these works make for some very great Instagrammable moments.”

Aptakin’s Dania Beach gallery runs a side business, MAD Labs, which loans out projection-mapping technology such as screens, sensors and software to art collectives “with great ideas,” he says. MAD’s technological know-how was why Phillip Dunlap, director of the Broward County Cultural Division, first called Aptakin in 2020 to pitch the idea of an interactive art festival called IGNITE Broward.

Dunlap says the free IGNITE Broward bash costs roughly $400,000, financed through the Cultural Division, county tourism arm Visit Lauderdale, and the city of Fort Lauderdale.

The inaugural event in March 2021, at the height of the pandemic, was meant “to give people an outdoor experience in an environment where it wasn’t really possible to go see art indoors,” he explains. Festival attendance swelled to 10,000 during the 2022 event, and this year, RSVPs on IGNITE Broward’s Eventbrite page have already exceeded that number.

Because each artwork is interactive, no visitor will have the same experience, Dunlap says. For example, at MAD Arts Gallery, “Footprints of Life” by British art collective Seeper shows a bioluminescent beach accented with real sand, turf and Adirondack chairs on the warehouse floor. On the walls, meditative mood music washes over visitors, who are greeted with sunrises and sunsets, rumbling storms and clouds that expand and contract like lungs.

“It’s just a serene, peaceful environment,” Dunlap says. “It’s escapist. If someone gets enjoyment with a very simple piece of art, that’s great. If you feel the need to post a selfie, that’s great too. But you’re doing a lot more than passively looking at framed artworks on the wall.”



7 p.m. Jan. 25 at Museum of Discovery & Science, 401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale

6-10 p.m. Jan. 26-29 at Esplanade Park, 400 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale

10 a.m.-8 p.m. Jan. 25-26, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Jan. 27-28 and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Jan. 29 at MAD Arts Gallery, 481 S. Federal Highway, in Dania Beach

COST: Free