The protective box where Toby Fraley will place the finished video project of Pittsburghers' messages that is meant to be seen in 100 years. Image courtesy of Toby Fraley.

If you have anything important you’d like to tell your great-grandchildren, make sure you visit Downtown Pittsburgh before June 16.

Next week, local artist Toby Fraley will debut the first phase of his new public art installation, “The Pittsburgh Time Capsule,” at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

From June 7 through 16, you can visit Fraley’s unique recording booth in Gateway Center Plaza and leave a 60-second video message that will be preserved for audiences unknown to enjoy in 2120.

“It’s an old concept, just kind of a new take on it,” says Fraley.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, the artist says the idea had been bouncing around in his notebook for several years before he answered a request for art proposals from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust last November.

Rendering courtesy of Toby Fraley.

To design the booth itself, Fraley took inspiration from the iconic lifeguard shacks in Los Angeles, “I don’t know why,” he says. “I just love the look of these things.”

After the festival wraps up, Fraley will spend the next several months editing the responses down into one video project, which will be officially sealed in early 2020. That video will be duplicated, with each copy stored in a different protective case — one kept at the Cultural Trust and another at the Mayor’s office, Fraley says, “just in case, in 50 years, one of those buildings burns down.”

The finished product may be a multi-screen installation or one long movie, depending on the number of entries.

Though time capsules are an old concept, Fraley says he ran into some very modern challenges in designing the project.

Chief among them: making sure audiences can play the videos in 100 years.

“Right now we can read any audio that was left 100 years ago. It was strictly an analog thing,” Fraley explains. “Today, everything is digital, and we have the problem of different file formats and things like Betamax that didn’t take off and quickly disappeared.”

His hedge against digital obsolescence? Fraley says he’ll be saving the final product across a wide variety of file formats and media, including specialty formats like M-DISC.

“They guarantee these for 1,000 years,” says Fraley. “So we’ll be more than safe if their marketing claims hold up.”

Fraley has had a number of prominent art installations in and around the city over the last several years, including the “Robot Repair Shop,” which began as a pop-up display Downtown before finding a permanent home at the airport.

For this new project, the artist says he was inspired by his love of Pittsburgh history, and all the fascinating voices that are often lost to time.

“I really like how this machine is going to be recording the thoughts, concerns, ideas of the everyday person, people that might not normally have their voices heard,” Fraley says. “It’s going to be easy for future generations to pull up quotes from politicians, sports and entertainment stars and so on. But this project focuses on the everyday person and gives them a chance to be in the limelight a century from now.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.