By Samantha Hilyer
As the sun began to set on Sept. 10 – what would have been the late Arnold Palmer’s 90th birthday – around 70 Saint Vincent students were handed light-up umbrellas and huddled into a small perimeter on the UPMC field, facing a large screen that projected a bird’s-eye view of the area. Above them, an exuberant voice boomed, providing instructions on how to operate their umbrellas as well as how to move in the space. In those first moments many students were still unsure of what they would be doing that night.
“I just know we have light up umbrellas and there’s a connection to Arnold Palmer,” said Zakiya Moses, sophomore communication major.
Joel Santoro, senior business economy major, thought that details of the event were kept fuzzy on purpose.
“[Those in charge] tried to keep it on the down-low and keep it confusing so that people would come to the event with an open mind,” he stated.
The event was brought to Saint Vincent by a collaboration between Reade Tilley, the brand director of the Arnold Palmer companies, and Matt Kent.
Matt Kent, who started The Umbrella Project, is an artistic director for Pilobolus, which is a collaborative dance organization that works on bringing to life the connection between technology and the strength of the human group in what Kent called “swarm behavior.” The technology involved in the Umbrella Project are LED umbrellas — umbrellas with three buttons on the handle which turn on different colored lights to essentially produce a multicolored glowing umbrella — and the use of a camera and screen to project what was happening on the field for all to see.
Those students who had these LED umbrellas were given instructions from Kent as to what color to make their umbrella and how to move smoothly in the space provided, without any training beforehand. The students had to work together with minimal communication amongst themselves to do the tasks Kent set before them.
The idea was that people would be able to come together and let go of their own individual egos to complete a common goal: making different symbols, shapes and ultimately, the Arnold Palmer Foundation symbol, an umbrella. This project, according to Tilley, was the perfect tribute to Arnold Palmer.
“Mr. Palmer was very famously humble and known for not having ego,” he stated, “The idea was to show the light he brought to the world.”
Tilley explained that it was significant to have the event in Latrobe because it was the place and community where Palmer grew up.
“We decided to create something that everyone could be a part of,” said Kent.
Taylor Berardi, junior mathematics education major, stated that she initially thought that the project would not work because the participants were not trained in choreography, but changed her mind after the event was underway.
“I couldn't stop thinking about how interesting it was to see what we could come together to create with something as simple as umbrellas,” Berardi stated.
“It was cool that the Arnold Palmer Organization got involved with students on campus to do an event,” he said. “It really felt like the Saint Vincent and Latrobe community were brought together.”
Kidwell “was not lucky enough to get an umbrella for the event,” but stated it was impressive to witness as an onlooker.
“Perhaps the coolest part was watching the formation of Arnold Palmer's famous umbrella logo out of, well, umbrellas,” he said.
Both Kent and Tilley reported that many states – from Florida, where Tilley had spent the morning at a ceremonial tee shot to honor Arnold Palmer – to New York, where the Empire State Building was lit with the official Arnold Palmer umbrella colors of red, yellow, white and green – celebrated the day along with the Saint Vincent community and the Umbrella Project.