Recently I had the chance to interview Edward Bartholomew, the Principal of Bartholomew Lighting, about his lifelong career in the lighting industry and his experience starting his firm last year in the middle of the pandemic.
Edward Bartholomew began his career as a lighting designer in the San Francisco Bay Area and later in Seattle. This was a formative time for him where he was able to explore big design ideas that interested him, most prominently, sustainable lighting solutions that integrated daylighting and electric lighting, and the application of contrast and luminance in interior spaces that he referred to as “exquisite darkness.” He later moved to the Boston area and worked at the utility National Grid as an Energy Efficiency Lighting Program Manager. In this position, he developed utility incentive programs that supported energy efficiency and lighting quality. After leaving National Grid in 2019, Edward went on to work as a Senior Associate at the lighting design firm Available Light.
In March of 2020, during the global pandemic, he was laid off at Available Light. But Edward saw what many would view as a setback as a great opportunity instead. He used his time to restart his own design firm, Bartholomew Lighting, and to focus his firm on the opportunities of retrofit lighting, and how these projects could benefit from his lighting design experience. Now, a little over one year into this venture, Edward has multiple projects and is competing for more. One recent project is with a museum in Rhode Island and is a personal favorite. As Edward describes it; “This particular building had previously been somewhat overlooked by the community, and my firm now has the opportunity to bring this museum back to life.” It seems that this idea of bringing buildings back to life is the motivation behind all of the firm’s activities. One can tell that Edward has made good on his promise to bring his lighting design experience to existing buildings—a process (and, fittingly, the tagline of the new firm) that he calls “revitalizing environments with light.”
As a Black-owned business, Edward is proud to be certified as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) in Massachusetts, which he describes as a signifier of the professional excellence and talents found in minority communities. While venturing out on his own has been challenging at times, Edward notes a few strategies that have helped expand his companies strengths. He has created strategic partnerships with a local energy service company (ESCO) which compliments his retrofit capabilities. And he contracts on projects with an independent designer on the West Coast whose skills complement his own.
Another significant role that Edward has embraced is his advocacy to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the lighting industry. For example, he was one of the first to voice his displeasure at the lighting industry in ignoring the social justice movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd last year. Among his efforts, he founded the affinity group Blacks & Underrepresented in Lighting & Design, (B.U.I.L.D.up) to foster connections between Black lighting professionals and discuss ways to support one another in a predominantly white industry. Edward also serves on the IES Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect (DEIR) committee, which was created to help the IES and the lighting industry embrace greater diversity and equity. While Edward admits that he’s not sure any of these efforts have necessarily helped him acquire new work, he believes that it is crucial to lead when history calls you to make a difference.
One of the relationships that Edward is most proud of is being mentored by experienced friend and ally, Mark Loeffler IALD, LEED Fellow. “Being able to pick Mark’s brain when a project starts to get complicated has been invaluable.” What started off as a weekly check-in meeting has morphed into a shared passion and advocacy for equity in lighting design. Edward and Mark have developed a talk called “Light + Justice,” which they will present at LightFair this fall, with an article on light and environmental justice to be in LD&A preceding LightFair. This talk and article has crystalized Edward’s mission, and focused him to center equity in his practice, finding ways that lighting design can support underserved communities and not just the rich and priviledged. His mentoring relationship with Mark also shows how white allies can have a powerful impact on equity and inclusion, thus making our industry better.
Edward will also add teaching to his repertoire. He was excited to announce that he has led a group that successfully applied for a Nuckolls Fund for Lighting Education $30,000 grant, which was awarded to Morgan State University to create a lighting course in their graduate architecture program. It is the first time in the fund’s history that it will provide funding to a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Edward will be co-teaching the course alongside Baltimore-based lighting designer Greg Guarnaccia of DoublEdge Designs. This lighting class at Morgan State is just the beginning of an effort to increase the pipeline of diverse talent into the lighting industry.
In another exciting venture, Edward and his friend John Wilson of Fernhill Shopworks will be co-hosting a “vlogcast” starting in June on the Get-A-Grip-on- Lighting media platform. Each show will explore the interaction of lighting in our society. Diversity and equity will be just a few of the topics covered in this vlogcast, which will feature some fascinating guests. This timely vlogcast will broaden the conversation around lighting to examine how light and design intersect with many of the world’s critical issues.
We are excited to see Edward succeed with his design firm while advocating for greater equity and diversity in our industry. Our industry is better with voices like Edward’s demonstrating the boundless potential of a better, more equitable lighting industry. •
This article was originally featured in the June issue of designing lighting (dl)