St. Paul's plume of steam is going to become a colorful art project


Local artists are debuting a new project Tuesday evening that will turn the large steam plume over downtown St. Paul into a multimedia art installation.

The installation, known as the "Plume Project," will see high-powered lights and projectors transform the cloud-like steam into a colorful canvas after sundown every night through February, according to a press release.

The plume stretches to roughly two stories above District Energy’s plant on Kellogg Boulevard, the Star Tribune said.

You can see it from the adjacent Science Museum of Minnesota plaza or across the river on Harriet Island.

The debut Tuesday evening is entitled “Rumbles,” and is from public artist Emily Stover. It incorporates poetry and spoken word readings from six local poets, including rapper/poet Dessa Darling.

Here’s how it works – residents call 651-383-1378 while watching the plume in person, (or via a promised webcam feed, MPR says) and wait until their turn. Even the hold music is local, provided by Minnesota producer Father You See Queen.

When the caller’s turn comes up, the feed will play an audio recording of one of six poems, each with a uniquely synced pattern of lights and visuals within the plume.

Here’s an example MPR uploaded.


Starting in late December, a project from Aaron Dysart called “Solar System” will replace Stover’s, linking the tower’s lights with a feed from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It’ll depict the activity on the Sun’s surface over St. Paul’s riverfront.

The final installation, “Plume Coloring Contest,” helmed by Asia Ward, will run alongside the city’s Winter Carnival and source some of its imagery by asking for submissions from the community.

More on the Plume Project

The Plume Project is the brainchild of Stover, who partnered with sculptor Dysart and projection artist Asia Ward to secure a $35,000 Knight Arts Grant for the project last year.

Stover, Dysart and Ward are members of the City Art Collaboratory, a St. Paul-based think-tank whose aim is to create public art informed by science and engineering.

Representatives from District Energy approached the City Art Collaboratory in 2013, sparking the idea for the Plume Project as a form of community outreach along with nonprofits Public Art St. Paul and Works Progress, the Pioneer Press reports.

District Energy, which according to the release provided a portion of the funding for the Plume Project, is a combined heat and power utility serving several buildings in downtown St. Paul.

The utility, which has previously been noted for its commitment to sustainability, creates the steam cloud by burning waste wood with natural gas. That steam is then vented through the plant’s cooling tower, creating the silver screen for the Plume Project.

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