Alumni Profile: Joe Petrowski (STEINHARDT ’20)
December 15, 2020
It would be safe to say that Joe Petrowski (STEINHARDT ’20) has always seen the light(s). “My parents tell me I was fascinated with Christmas lights as an infant,” says Petrowski. “Growing up in Connecticut, my family would decorate the house with a few lights, as most people do, but I sort of took over when I was about five or six years old. I began decorating for all the other holidays, too, including Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Fourth of July, and Halloween.”
Those illuminating experiences brought Petrowski first to Emerson College, where he earned his BFA in Theater Design Technology, and eventually to NYU, where he is the University Box Office Manager at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and this past spring earned his Master’s in Performing Arts Administration from NYU Steinhardt.
And through it all, Petrowski has continued to share his bright ideas. More recently, through Joe’s Amazing Lights (link opens in new tab), he synchronizes light displays to music and collects donations for local and national charities, raising more than $150,000 to date. His current project, “30 deLIGHTS,” which highlights 30 different songs by 30 different musical artists over 30 days in the month of December, is supporting the National Independent Venue Association’s #SaveOurStages campaign to preserve independent live event venues affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tell us about Joe's Amazing Lights. How did your interest in holiday lights begin and evolve?
For Christmas and birthdays, I would always ask for more decorations, lights, and—most importantly—more extension cords! Over the years, the displays grew in designs, complexity, themes, popularity, and just got, well, bigger! In 2005, when I was about 15 years old, I programmed and synchronized my light show to holiday music. At the same time I began collecting monetary donations for various charities, too. Because I live in New York City now, Christmas 2017 was my last holiday display in Connecticut. However, due to COVID, I was home in Connecticut again this past summer and so created my first time summertime display synchronized to mainstream music.
2020 has been a difficult year in many ways; how has that affected your work this holiday season?
This year has definitely been unique; But interesting enough, without it, I don't believe that I would have designed a summertime display or would have conceived the “30 deLIGHTS” project. While I was staying with my parents at home for an extended period of time, I was looking to do something creative; I realized how much I missed doing the lights and I felt that I needed to do something. I realized a light show would help bring some much needed joy and happiness to the Connecticut shoreline when there was very little "light" at the end of the tunnel. I had never designed a summertime light show before, but it's 2020, so why not try?
The display was well received and raised more than $11,000 for the Connecticut Food Bank. The recent 30 deLIGHTS project was created with the intention of me playing with lights around the holidays and collaborating with musical artists to try something new and original. Rather than the light show being at a specific location, I decided to share a video each day on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok for viewers to enjoy worldwide. I've been working with a wide variety of 30 musical artists on this project; from Cuba to the United Kingdom, Grammy winners and newcomers from around the world have contributed music ranging from electronic dance music to holiday songs.
30 deLIGHTS will benefit the National Independent Venue Association's #SaveOurStages cause. Due to the pandemic, many venues cannot open. The Association represents more than 3,000 independent venues in 50 states and Washington DC; Without congressional support, 90% of NIVA’s independent venues will close their doors forever. I hope to raise at least $1,000 to help.
I can confidently say that this year pulled me out of my temporary lighting hiatus. I look forward to continuing to build partnerships and collaborations across multiple disciplines and share the magic of the lights in any way I can. Although there are many setbacks related to this year, I am happy to have found some positives.
Where do you find inspiration for your displays?
Music! Since all of my projects have a music or sound component, I usually brainstorm designs based on researching and listening to different songs. Between all of the artists and genres, every song is different and has a unique feel and mood; I focus on the different beats and imagine how they would look, what color they would be, and if there are any patterns that come to mind. From there, I program them with the computer. The programming takes quite a bit of time because I can get as accurate as a tenth of a second. It usually takes me about an hour to complete about 30 seconds of a display, give or take the size and complexity of the display.
If you could create a display in collaboration with any musical artist, who would it be and what song would you choose?
This is hard! The 30 deLIGHTS project has really challenged me to work with various artists and different genres so it's been exciting to push my creative boundaries and see what I can come up with. More recently, I've been more interested in electronic dance music because it’s fun to program the different beats and sounds. During the summer, I programmed "Fun" by Kaskade. It was lots of fun (no pun intended!). I would be interested in working with Galantis & Dolly Parton's "Faith;" It's an upbeat, exciting song (and who doesn't love some Dolly?). Perhaps there are some NYU grads I can work with in the future?!
Through Joe's Amazing Lights, you've raised more than $150,000 for deserving causes. Can you explain how you've been able to make such a significant impact?
I really owe this to the community. It seems that I get more and more support every year! Visitors tell their friends and family who tell their friends and family, so more and more check it out each time. The local newspapers, radio, and news stations usually help spread the word, too. I am also in communication with the nonprofit I’m supporting and they provide extra marketing such as social media posts or eblasts to highlight the event.
You're a recent NYU grad (congratulations!); can you share some of your most memorable NYU moments?
It's been great building my network with professionals from around the world who have so many different disciplines, skill sets, and experiences. I enjoyed establishing friendships with classmates that I still keep in touch with.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your final year at NYU? What did you learn from this experience?
Taking classes from in person to remote session mid-semester was definitely a challenge, but the whole process was very smooth, all things considered. Professors were extremely understanding and nimble to respond to the changing teaching environment. Personally, the transition proved how flexible and adaptable I could be; great skills that I will be able to carry with me to any situation.