Lights, Canvas, Action

By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff

It all started with the lights.

Nelson Gallardo, a Port Authority contract project manager, was working on a lighting upgrade in the Port Authority’s bridges and tunnels in 2017 when inspiration struck. It wasn’t about a new design or structure, as might be expected from someone who works in construction.

Gallardo wanted to paint the transformation of New York City, through the lens of infrastructure improvements of benefit to the environment.

Just ahead of Earth Week 2019, he unveiled his original exhibit at the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s Times Square Hall: “Into the light: behind the scenes in the fight for our planet.” The exhibit runs through the end of this week.

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Gallardo presenting his paintings at the exhibit’s opening

Gallardo drew upon his first-hand experiences in the field to convey the dedication required to convert existing structures into more energy-efficient ones. As part of the Port Authority’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, the agency has adopted a “clean dozen” set of initiatives. One of those initiatives includes installing LED lights to improve energy efficiency at the facilities, one of Gallardo’s areas of oversight.

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Each piece took about a month to complete, and Gallardo carefully chose each color and patterns to represent the environments in various employees worked.Typically, replacing structures generates a lot of waste. But for Gallardo, the replacement of light fixtures at the George Washington Bridge presented an opportunity. Using labels on the old lights that would have been discarded, Gallardo paid tribute to those who rescued others and those who died on 9/11 with the creation of a Twin Towers image.

“Through my art, I wanted to show people all the work that’s being done to save energy and improve the facilities that nobody sees,” Gallardo said.

Gallardo has had a knack for painting since his childhood in Colombia. At the age of 11, he won a gold prize at an international art competition. At 15, he was selected to participate in the Young Talented Artists program at the country’s Institute of Fine Arts. Then, as a Physics student at the University of Valle, he painted the department’s first mural.

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A sampling of Gallardo’s paintings from the exhibit

In 2002, Gallardo moved to the United States and joined the Army as a chemical biological and nuclear weapons specialist, but he didn’t forget his artistic roots. Posted in Germany, he was able to study and observe classical art like he never had before back in Colombia. Once his deployment ended, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Berkley College in Management and Administration.

“It really is a lot of incremental contributions — on an individual level, on a collective level and on an organizational level — that are going to enable the Port Authority to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals of 35 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050,” said Christine Weydig, director of the agency’s Office of Energy and Environmental Programs.

For Gallardo, his own individual contribution is helping enlighten those who may miss the sustainability effort under way at facilities throughout the Port Authority.

“People drive through the bridges and tunnels and only see traffic,” he said. “But they’re not seeing what’s happening behind the orange cones and all the work that’s required.”

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