—By: David Schuyler – An article for The Milwaukee Business Journal—
Germantown lighting designer Marty Peck was once considered too artsy for Milwaukee. Such was the
impact of a special lighting installation he designed for the city’s 3rd Ward in the early 1990s to recognize the 100th anniversary of an 1892 blaze that devastated a large swath of Milwaukee. The effects he helped create for the re-enactment of the blaze’s inception using portable theatrical equipment, stage smoke and pyrotechnics proved successful, by accounts, and pegged Peck locally as an artist, not a businessman.
But Peck and the firm he founded in 1991, Creative Lighting Design & Engineering, have come full circle, and are now in demand in Milwaukee, in a roundabout way because of the illustrious 3rd Ward project. The fire reenactment garnered national attention, leading to high-profile projects across the country. He’s now being rediscovered by local clients, including Potawatomi Bingo Casino, the Wisconsin Club and the Milwaukee County Parks System, which hired Creative Lighting to install state-of-the-art LED lighting to brighten up the Mitchell Park Domes.
The increase interest in Creative Lighting Design‘s work reflects two trends, Peck says: improved technology and changing attitudes toward the lighting of homes, building and other structures away from strictly illuminating space.
“Lighting design is a hard sell,” says Peck. “Lighting has traditionally been a functional element. It’s a necessary evil.”
It is Peck‘s creativity – and a training in theater – that he is using to differentiate his company from his relatively few competitors. Advances in lighting technology, particularly solid state systems like LEDs allow him to take advantage of his theatrical training and bring light into a new realm.
“Lighting design is just as much art as it is technology,” Peck says.
Peck, 53, declined to disclose the revenue for his three-person company, which designs lighting for residential, commercial, retail and hospitality projects including casinos. Creative Lighting now completes 40 to 50 projects a year, Peck says, earning the firm design fees that can range from $1,000 to as high as a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the largest projects.
The firm’s work on Potawatomi’s $240 million expansion project was certainly one of the firm’s largest, Peck says. Work at the Menomonee Valley casino ranged from outside facade illumination to the Welcome Wall, a 62-foot-by-123-foot wall of colorfully lighted tiles facing the parking structure, to the kinetic elements of Bar360, where robotic and programmable LED fixtures splash light across the upscale central bar. The client is pleased with the work, according to David Brien, facilities manager for the casino.
“Marty did a great job of taking on that thematic element and bringing it to life,” Brien says.
Peck also designed the lights to illuminate the Wisconsin Club in downtown Milwaukee, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. His firm recently won a competition to light up the Mitchell Park Domes Conservatory, known as the domes, a project that’s being funded by an anonymous donor. Among other colorful features, his design will bring back the “halo” effect to the Domes and allow for more events to be held at night, said Milwaukee County Parks director Sue Black.
Black noted that Peck delves deeply into his projects and his clients to get the desired effects.
“He gets his hands dirty,” Black says. “he’s just so passionate about it.”
Peck‘s passion began in high school, when he designed a lighting console for a rock band. He then hooked up with a group renovating a movie house in Battle Creek, Michigan. He maintained his connections with the theater, performing light design for shows, while attending Western Michigan University.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Peck landed a job at Kohler Co., and promptly hooked with a local theater company in Sheboygan, WI, where he continued his lighting design work and honed an appreciation for how light can be used to convey expressions, mood, timing and tempo.
“(Theater) was the training ground,” Peck says. “I want to bring that into lighting design.”
Light, for Peck, can never again be a simple functional element of design.
“When you take lighting away from the function,” he says, “you bring out the art.”