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Waterloo Greenway’s 2023 Creek Show Recap: the designers behind “Into the Wild”


Ryan Blair and Nolan Stone wading in Waller Creek with their exhibit, Into the Wild, photographed by Dirk Houghton.

Into the Wild by Nolan Stone and Ryan Blair

Every year, Waterloo Greenway hosts a design competition for its annual Creek Show along Waller Creek, an event displaying immersive light-based art. Two TBG designers up to the challenge set out to celebrate untouched natural and wild vignettes scattered throughout the world in a new way. Nolan Stone and Ryan Blair’s design, “Into the Wild” tells a story of local ecology through a creek-level illuminated installation. Their design was one of eight submissions selected and commissioned for the 9th annual Creek Show.

Waterloo Greenway Conservancy — a non-profit focused on revitalizing a chain of urban parks around a restored Waller Creek, a key urban waterway through downtown Austin — hosted Creek Show extending from 9th Street to Waterloo Park. Throughout the month of November, the public was invited to experience the nightly event accompanied with family-friendly activities and live music.

Into the Wild, photographed by Roger Ho.

In a rapidly urbanizing world, our few remaining wild places exist in the form of urban creeks and greenbelts. Into the Wild is a plea for wilder cities that highlights the life that still exists within. In line with the theme of local culture, history and ecology, the creek-level installation celebrates the flora and fauna that reside in these spaces long before humans and the resilient remainders that were required to adapt to human development. The design utilized common materials in uncommon ways like recycled PVC and foam pool noodles to create their vision in a cost-effective way. The use of blacklights and luminescent materials created a reflection of the pool noodles onto the creek visually doubling the scale of the installation, appearing as if the noodles extended the bottom of the creek. On windy days, the larger noodles swayed with the breeze, creating a natural movement to the piece.

The entire TBG team rallied behind Nolan and Ryan in celebration of their design being one of the eight selected. TBGers helped build the installation in one of our Austin office’s conference rooms.

Texas weather proved a point this Creek Show, and the team had to act fast to avoid losing their exhibit. As futurists, anticipating the unexpected with living systems is key to resilient design. Below is Nolan’s experience with the adverse conditions—

“Historically, rain is always relevant during creek show, and we had to take our installation out of the water twice due to rising waters. We had planned for it, but it is totally different when it is constantly raining, and you cannot see your next step in the creek. The last thing we wanted was our installation floating into the other installations along the creek. We eventually crafted our process of uninstall and reinstall to an art form. We also had to hop in the creek and clean creek debris from our frames every day.”

On November 14th Nolan and Ryan attended the Creek Show Artist Talk to discuss their exhibit.

Into the Wild represented the beauty of all the wildlife that existed and continues to thrive along Waller Creek. Once the daylight waned and the moonlight illuminated the water, the creek came alive reminding us of what once was and what could be. Many folks don’t realize the presence of wildlife in downtown Austin, and it was a very fitting narrative to showcase the wild side of the creek in their design. By the end of the show, both Nolan and Ryan became friends with the local wildlife along their site, including mischievous racoons, fish that were attracted to the lit noodles, a fox and an owl.

From this angle you can see more of the structure of the install, with blue lights projecting onto the pool noodles and green lights in the bushes portraying the eyes of wildlife. Photo by Roger Ho

What was the creation process of the installation like?

“Initially, there is always an ‘oh crap’ moment when you’re accepted and must take a computer-rendered dream and make it a reality (within a budget too!). Originally, we planned on individually lighting each vertical nodule but erred away to keep things more fail proof. Deciding to use UV turned out even better than internal LEDs from a visual standpoint. We even made a run to Lowes the day before opening night to make three more frames to create a grander effect on the creek.” – Ryan Blair

Overall, the exhibit was a hit. Crowds came and spent time at the installation, interacting with it. Kids especially loved the pool noodles and enjoyed watching all the fish gather around the glow of the light sources. Both Nolan and Ryan plan on attending next year’s creek show and encourage others to participate.

As artists, we draw, dream and imagine—working with a living, organic canvas to infuse beauty into every environment. Waller Creek was the perfect setting for our designers to exercise imaginative exploration, which personifies TBGs’ embodiments.

More on Waterloo Greenway

Waterloo Greenway Conservancy is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create and maintain an extraordinary urban park system and a restored Waller Creek, in partnership with the City of Austin, for the benefit of all. The Conservancy renews the natural environment, promotes play, health and wellness, economic vitality and mobility, and engages the community through outreach, education, cultural events, and the arts.

Sponsored by: Texas Disposal Systems

Photo by Dirk Houghton