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How do you pull off flying 1,000 illuminated drones in the formation of a swarm of starlings above Central Park on a Saturday night and why would anyone want to?

For Studio Drift, “Franchise Freedom” was several years in the making and the takeaway was the tension between a social structure and freedom.

The one-night-only event featured 10-minute flights at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., making it the park’s largest public arts event since artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installed orange fabric flags along 23 miles of walking paths for “The Gates.” Participants could also tune into the music that Joep Boving composed and played for the occasion. As the drones circled the night sky, clusters of people craned their necks upward, and largely fell silent save for gasps of surprise when the drones illuminated again.

Studio Drift’s Ralph Nauta, who cofounded the multidisciplinary agency with Lonneke Gordijn, explained Monday, “When you’re looking at a swarm of birds, you think you’re looking at one of the most free-forming natural movements that are imaginable. But when you look closely, there is hardly any freedom. They all look at their neighbors. They get motivated to do a certain movement by outside forces. They might get startled and need to protect themselves. What we find tremendously beautiful in nature and what we can learn from is that you have these millions of individuals that function together in a social structure. They actually sacrifice a part of their freedom to be able to work together. We do the same in our cities.”

Ditto for New York, where different cultures, subcultures, religions and everything are working together in a respectful manner, he said. “We have to make these sacrifices to be able to function and to become stronger than the separate individual. Sometimes in society we feel jaded because we cannot always do exactly what we want. This realization of having to give that up allows us to function stronger as a group and small differences don’t matter,” he said. “What matters is relating to one another, understanding each other, being opening to dialogue and listening. If we do that properly, we have flourishing worlds. If we don’t, the alternative is what’s going on now in the world. For me, that’s not an acceptable outcome.”

Estimating that between 50,000 and 100,000 people turned up Saturday night, Nauta said that catching people’s reactions is the most gratifying element of the work. He said, “There was almost complete silence looking at this natural phenomenon. When you normally get such a large crowd together, there are bombastic sounds and lights. This collective moment of tranquility and connection was all I could hope for. Creating something that was a powerful memory collectively with all of these people, who visited, is mind-blowing, when that works.”

With patience, persistence and help from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, the team was able to execute Saturday’s event. The idea sprang from another one of Studio Drift’s projects called “Flylight,” a site-specific light sculpture that used “a swarming algorithm” to mimic the behavior of birds in flight. Keen to try to get a similar concept in the sky, the two founders spoke with universities, tech workers and engineer friends about the prospect, although there was no drone culture at that time.  That first swarm took flight at Art Basel in 2017.

Founded in 2007, Studio Drift, which has offices in Amsterdam and New York, soon plans to reveal a large-scale show that will be staged overseas and a fashion-related project is being considered. But neither one Nauta was at liberty to discuss yet. The studio is represented by Pace.

“Franchise Freedom” was coproduced by Lucas Van Oostrum. It was sponsored by the wellness specialist Therme US, and Drone Studios, Fishko Inc. and Nova served as partners.

Connecting people with nature through technology isn’t a quandary. While a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to walk in the mountains or swim in the sea, we can quickly forget how such natural environs as the ocean rolling in is what opens up our spirit, grounds ourselves and create a healthy mind, the Amsterdam-based Nauta said. “I can already see after a week of being in New York that it is so easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day craziness, especially with all this tech around us. It is that reconnection that we hope to establish to help people realize what they are missing and what they need in their lives,” Nuata said.

Fittingly, Saturday night’s formation and the crowds below were filmed, and footage will be posted to Studio Drift’s site in the coming days. New York being New York, a few observers had only one question, after the site-specific work concluded: “That’s it?”