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In just 15 days, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will become illuminated by 24 powerful robotic searchlights, creating enormous three-dimensional light formations in the night sky visible up to 10 miles away.

Open Air, created by renowned new media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and presented by the Association for Public Art, is a Philadelphia first.

It continues the tradition of other artists whose work is installed along the Parkway of putting the power of art in the public’s hands: sculptor Auguste Rodin (of the Rodin Museum) took sculpture off the pedestal and made it public; Marcel Duchamp (whose work is exhibited inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the head of the Parkway) said the spectator makes the artwork.

Now Lozano-Hemmer has stepped into those two men’s huge footprints to bring this large-scale, interactive, inclusive, empowering piece of public art to Philadelphia, wherein “participation is a vehicle for transformation,” in Lozano-Hemmer’s words.

The content of Open Air is crowd-sourced in that the patterns of the searchlights are created by the user, via a mobile app or the Open Air website, which is officially live.

Here’s how it works:

1. Record anything you want up to 30 seconds long: a line of poetry, a dedication to a loved one, a funny joke, a quote.
2. Classify your recording by mood: amorous, inspired, bored, philosophical, etc.; type: idea, manifesto, factual statement, song, shout-out, etc.; and subject: freedom, environment, love, Philadelphia, etc.
3. Once your recording gets entered into the Open Air archive, listeners can browse through and rate their favorites.
4. The higher rated messages will be played-back by the lights in Philadelphia. How does that work? Software analyzes your voice on the recording to render it in a visual display that the 24 searchlights, the most powerful in the entire world, interpret with movement and pattern creating a meshwork canopy of light in the night sky.

Whether you used the app or the website, you will get notified 30 seconds before your recording goes live in the sky. Want to use the app but don’t have an iPhone? You can check out iPhones for FREE at the Open Air headquarters at Eakins Oval, 24th Street and the Parkway.

On the website, you soon will also be able to preview your recording using Google Earth to see what it will look like once it gets projected by the searchlights.

And don’t forget: the Opening Night celebration on Thursday, September 20 is free and open to the public from 7:30-11 p.m. on the inner drive of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will include a selection of local food trucks, a live countdown and a ceremonial lighting, as well as a presentation by the artist and other special guests. See you there!

Open Air
Where: Benjamin Franklin Parkway; Project Headquarters: 24th Street and the Parkway
When: September 20-October 14, nightly 8-11 p.m.
Cost: Free
More info: