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'Open Air' Light Show Raises Concerns For Conservationists

By Jenn Bernstein

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Thursday night the sky over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will transform into a public, interactive, art show, called "Open Air". Mexican-Canadian artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer and his team are using cutting edge technology to make lights move to the sound of voices.

"You send your message, it gets put into a queue, and when it's your turn the lights actually listen to your voice, your frequency, your volume, and then interpret that with brightness and movement," said Lozano-Hemmer.

People will be able to record messages on an iPhone application, typed into iTunes as openair philly or the website Then, 24 high-powered lights will react creating a pattern that can be seen in a ten mile radius.

"The key for me is to bring participation into the city to sort of activate it," said Lozano-Hemmer.

While the night sky will be a sight to see, a conservation group is very concerned about its effects on migrating birds, since they look to the stars to navigate.

"Lights at night can be a very big problem for birds," said Janet Starwood, the Director of Urban Conservation for Audubon Pennsylvania, "adding light sources in their path can distract them, they can circle these sources, they can become exhausted."

Audubon Pennsylvania says this art show-, which is planned each evening through October 14th, is happening at the fall peak for bird migration.

Hundreds of thousands will pass through Philadelphia's night sky this time of year.

"We're actually working with the artist to try to reduce the risks to the birds, the artist has been responsive," said Starwood.

Audubon will be observing birds from the ground using high tech radar and recording equipment.

"We'll be observing the show nightly, and we'll be looking to see if there are issues, that are really problematic for birds, and if there are, then we will be in touch with the artist," said Keith Russell from Audubon Pennsylvania.

Lozano-Hemmer says he will do all he can to minimize the possible impact on migrating birds and is working with Audubon Pennsylvania to minimize the impact.

He's altered a few parts of the installation: his team filtered the light for UV radiation, they will routinely turn off and on the light beams, he will be in touch with Audubon to hear what the radar shows, and he says, he will temporarily shut down the installation if groups of birds are in trouble.

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