There’s a Storm Brewing

For five years, Kelly DeLay’s head was in the clouds, but not in the distracted way one might assume. In fact, the longtime Frisco resident and multimedia artist was extremely focused when he set out each day, beginning in 2009 through 2014, to photograph billowing cumulonimbus and other cloud formations, as well as spectacular lightning strikes and terrifying tornadoes. These shots, which he painstakingly edited and posted on his blog (clouds365.com) and social media, were the basis of the Clouds 365 Project, which Mr. DeLay says he began as “an excuse to do something creative every day.” 

A professional storm chaser, Mr. DeLay crisscrossed the Great Plains and Central U.S. regions and visited more than a dozen national parks, including Grand Teton in Wyo., in search of photogenic weather. However, most days he pointed his camera lens toward the skies above and around Frisco and snagged some seriously stunning photos. “I love the structure of storms … the different layers,” which usually are best photographed from a distance, he explains. “It is hard to capture all of the grandeur of the storms from close up.” One of his most famous photos is of twin tornados swirling in opposite directions beneath a supercell thunderstorm as it hovered above Simla, Colo., in 2015. This “unicorn shot,” as he calls it, went viral online and was featured on television newscasts and in numerous publications around the globe. 

In 2010, the Clouds 365 Project blog was named Best Personal Portfolio at the SXSW Web Awards in Austin. Two years later, it earned a prestigious Webby award (the online equivalent of an Academy Award) in the personal blog/website category. By the time he wrapped up the project in June 2014, Mr. DeLay had amassed tens of thousands of weather photos. He also had a desire to share with others the experience of being amid a powerful storm. “I think a lot of people love weather and they want to know what it is like – what it feels like,” he says. This became the inspiration for a performance-art piece that he has created and will present as part of Arts Impact 2019 on December 5 at Frisco Hall. Formerly known as “A HeARTfelt Celebration,” the annual year-end event is hosted by Frisco Arts, the city’s arts advocacy agency. 

The 20-minute piece will feature original music composed by Mr. DeLay, as well as weather photos and video he has taken. LED technology and special mapping software will be employed to choreograph bright lighting effects onstage and throughout the performance hall. For example, specific color tones and music may be used to simulate “the color of a storm, the starkness of summer, the beauty of a fall sunrise,” he says. Each season boasts “different colors because of where the sun is in the sky, obviously. You can tell the difference between fall and summer just by the tone of the sky. Having that in the back of my mind, I have always wanted to do a project where I display all of my images by season.” 

Ultra wide version of the tornado warned supercell captured ouside of Hico, Texas. One of the most amazing storms I have seen in all of my years of chasing!

The lighting effects may correspond to videos that appear onscreen. Also, professional dancers and percussive and ambient noises may be featured in the piece, which was still being developed earlier this fall. “It will be very immersive and very bright,” explains Mr. DeLay, who will be stationed near the stage throughout the event controlling the software, music, lights and video. “My goal is to give the audience a feel of what it is like to be in close proximity of a storm.” More importantly, he wants those in attendance to have a “visceral reaction” to the piece. “I hope they get an emotion from it. Everybody is the same in the way that they attain information and sound and color, but not everybody is the same when it comes to what they like. So, I think it will be a different experience depending on who is watching it.” 

Tammy Meinershagen, the executive director of the Frisco Association of the Arts, says Mr. DeLay was selected to participate in Arts Impact 2019 after he reached out to her earlier this year. “He said he has been watching Frisco Arts grow and wanted to help support the arts locally as a Frisco resident,” she recalls. Of meeting with him and viewing his work she says, “I knew he was the perfect artist for us to feature at our event. Kelly essentially merges art, technology, music and dance into a sensory experience that will challenge your perception of art. I think our audience will find it one of the most inspiring and impactful arts events they have attended.” 

A San Antonio native, Mr. DeLay graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., with a degree in audio engineering. Early in his career, he worked as a sound engineer and road manager for such touring pop, rock, indie and country artists as John Prine, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, The Pretenders and the Steve Miller Band, before shifting his career to focus on audio-video production. After moving to Dallas in the mid-1990s, he founded his own company that catered largely to corporate clients. Describing himself as a “technologist,” he entered the field of interactive web-based media and later specialized in online video, marketing and content production. Besides having built websites for musicians including country legend Clint Black, Mr. DeLay also worked on the first-ever webcast of the Latin Grammy Awards. His work has taken him all over the world. He previously has assisted other contemporary artists in staging large-scale light installations in Singapore and other countries. 

In 2000, Mr. DeLay and his wife, Stephanie, who formerly was a commercial photographer, relocated to Frisco. The couple has two teenage daughters, Cameron and Ashley. Last year, Mr. DeLay was hired to complete a video-mapping project that placed video images on the side of the 16-story Omni Frisco Hotel. “I would love to work in Frisco as much as possible, and to work with the arts association with my wife to do whatever we can to make it a place for artists to come,” he says. “Dallas is a world-class art community. I think there needs to be more opportunities for artists and more venues.” 

Mr. DeLay estimates he has spent thousands of hours over the past few years planning and working on his current multimedia piece – from composing music, getting various computer software programs to interact with one another and 3D printing the hardware brackets needed to construct the lighting apparatus. The event will be the first time he has showcased his performance art for the public. He says being able to share it with an audience “really is a dream come true. It is like a combination of everything I have ever done and the experiences I have had over 30 years of working as an engineer. It very much fits my personality and everything I have wanted to do. This was an idea I had to make come to life.”