Empowering Communities

Solar Spotlight Students Walk like Egyptians!

February 23, 2017

As a young man growing up in Chicago, Olusola Akintunde, or Shala, as he is now known, dreamt of making a social impact with his art. Little did he know that he would find inspiration thousands of year in the making to grace the city’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

Shala, whose parents were born in Nigeria, graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago with a degree in product design and development. He sought out opportunities to express himself artistically while still carving out a living.

“My father’s a doctor, and my mother is a medical technician,” he says. “My very strict Nigerian parents were not going to have this artistic kid being broke or living off them for the rest of their lives.”

Shala was in a band that got a record deal. They toured for a brief time, but when the band broke up, he looked for new opportunities. He moved into visual arts and began doing brand design work for advertising agencies. Artistically, his interest turned to melding art and technology.

Through his agency work with a firm called Carol H. Williams, Shala was introduced to ComEd’s Solar Spotlight Program, an initiative focused on exposing high school students to renewable energy and STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

However, for its 2017 Black History Month celebration, ComEd wanted to add an art component to the program and take STEM to STEAM, adding in the “A” for art. Finding an artist with the right vision was critical to the program’s success.

Shala began creating art using solar panels, but he wanted to try something on a larger scale. He had already created a vision for a solar art project but was looking for the right partner to work with.

“I wanted to try something different. I thought, ‘What if we had a pyramid in the middle of the city, like the Louvre in Paris?’” Shala says. “But I wanted it to light up with solar panels. I thought ‘Who would do this?’ ComEd would do this!’”

Shala envisioned a solar pyramid, 7-feet tall and 15-feet wide, that features more than 240 urban “hieroglyphics” that represent images of the city and the Bronzeville neighborhood, which is where the Solar Pyramid will be installed.

“I think the pyramid will inspire people,” he says. “People have always felt that a lot of power comes from pyramids, especially in ancient times. A pyramid also has a strong foundation. That imagery will mean something to people.”

For their part, the Solar Spotlight participants are creating pictures that represent themselves that will be included on the pyramid.

“The kids have really been engaged in the project,” says Shala. “They want permission to express themselves and we are giving them the space to do that. It’s great that we get to stamp their mark on the pyramid.”

The pyramid, which is expected to be finished by spring, will sit adjacent to Gallery Guichard in Bronzeville.