Natty Light’s “Da Vinci of Debt” – United Staging and Rigging’s Self-Climbing Grids and Vanderbilt Hall’s Historic Architecture

Da Vinci of Debt calls attention to the rising costs of earning a college diploma and the fact that most students can’t attain the diploma without a crippling amount of student debt. The installation features more than 2,600 diplomas with the average cost of each diploma at $180,000. Da Vinci of Debt has been valued at $470 million dollars – $20 million dollars more than Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (his most expensive work). Currently, in the United States student loan debt is at an all-time high of $1.7 trillion.

Self-Climbing Superstructure


The Da Vinci of Debt, erected at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, was facilitated due to help from United Staging and Rigging’s 4-tower self-climbing truss system and great care toward the historic architecture during the install.​

Time and Space Fabrication presented the team at United Staging and Rigging a rough design of conventional trusses and a 4-tower system. The maximum capacity for this particular tower system is 4000 lbs. per tower. USR designed the self-climbing superstructure to suspend the sculpture. A self-climbing grid is a system constructed out of truss that utilizes towers set in 4 corners with chain hoists to raise and lower the truss “grid”. “Self-Climbers” are used primarily for temporary outdoor applications such as large festival roof systems or when there are no hanging options above, which was the case in Vanderbilt Hall.Once the self-climbing truss grid was in place, the diplomas were hung by a dozen Time and Space Fabrication crew members using over 300 pre-cut pieces of 3/32” wire rope. Each cable was attached to a 18’ and 22’ truss circle. Each of the diplomas were attached individually.

​Diploma install took almost 8 hours.

Challenges to Overcome


Familiar with common challenges of an install, USR went headfirst into this project with their most dynamic team members to…cover every step of the project including the loading and unloading the trucks on the street and accessing the space through a rather narrow doorway off of the sidewalk. Moving large pieces through a very congested pedestrian sidewalk through one of the terminal’s main entrances/exits was also challenging.

The teams were well aware of the need to set up the self-climbing grid without damaging Grand Central Terminal’s historic architecture. Protecting Vanderbilt Hall’s architecture was one of the most important aspects of the job, and USR was careful to plan and utilize knowledge from previous installs in delicate locations. Floor protection was necessary wherever a piece of metal was to be placed on the granite floor. The crew used utmost care when bringing in rather large equipment, sometimes with inches to spare. When working in such a historic space, the utmost respect for the building and its history is given by production crews.

Another challenge was trying to stay within the 120 psf (pounds per square foot) rating of the granite floor. The entire grid weighted almost 18,000 lbs., so we had to distribute 4,500 lbs. per tower in a 3’x3′ area.
​- Luke Lohnes, Project Manager

This was accomplished by laying an 8’x8’x 3/4″ plywood pad with a 5’x5’x 3/8″ steel plate on top of that, upon which the Uni-Bloc ballast system was placed. The Uni-Bloc ballasts were critical in this build. Having the ability to move them into place with a standard pallet jack was the key because forklifts are not allowed in the venue. Also, having the ability to move the anchorage pin 8” in any direction, which you can’t do with other ballast blocks, made placement a breeze. The Uni-Bloc ballasts’ low profile also meshed well with the designers’ vision.

COVID-era protocols provided a new wrinkle in the build process that everyone involved strictly adhered to. Masking at all times, maintaining social distance (when applicable), and contact tracing were a top priority during the entire build process. Crew safety is always number one for USR.

Despite the challenges of working in historic Grand Central Terminal during the COVID-era, there is no more unique venue to work in and it’s worth every moment of the install.

Honored to Support this Art – Literally and Figuratively

Jon Sharpe, President of United Staging and Rigging stated he had a true appreciation for the work the creators included in their valuation of the installation and was proud his company was able to help bring light to the student loan debt problem plaguing America. Sharpe went on to explain that student debt, “…will be the failure of us if it continues.. and we allow the financial gaps to widen.”All in all, the project was a tremendous success. The end client “Natural Light” was thrilled with the final product. United was happy to be a part of such an important activation. Bringing the college debt crisis to the forefront with this very impressive sculpture in such an amazing space hopefully opened people’s eyes to the struggle young people have to face every day.
– Luke Lohnes, Project Manager

Funded by ‘Natty Light’ – Apply to Win a Grant

The installation was funded by Natural Light- a reduced calorie light lager made by Anheuser-Busch. The Natural Light College Debt Relief program, by Anheuser-Busch, provides $1 million each year to help students reduce their student debt. There will be 25 total recipients and video submissions will be accepted until March 21, 2021.

​Apply to win a grant:

ETCP Exam Prep: Top 5 Note-Taking Tips

Let’s face it, school was a long time ago for many of us. In fact, I bet most of us enjoy the physical aspect of rigging more than the paperwork. Nevertheless, you have made the important and exciting decision to earn your ETCP certification!

Studying for a test – an expensive one at that â€“ can be daunting. Fear not! I have been a nerd all my life and want to share my top tips for studying with you, starting with note-taking. I used these very tips to study for my ETCP Arena Rigging exam. Here are 5 tips for effective note-taking!

1. Get the Essentials

First, you need a great NOTEBOOK. My personal favorite is the Mead® Five Star® 5 Subject College Ruled Notebook. The notebook has 5 sections (or “subjects”) which help keep your notes organized. Then, you need 3 PENS â€“ one black, one blue, and one red. Lastly, you need many COLORFULHIGHLIGHTERS. I recommend Sharpie® Clear View® Stick Highlighters because the clear plastic between the felt tip and body allow you to see exactly what you are highlighting and when to stop. Why all the pens and highlighters? Studies have shown that colors can improve memory retention.

2. Structure Your Notebook

For example, you may consider dedicating one section of your notebook for the following subjects:

  • Basic Physics
  • Truss Math
  • Bridle Math
  • Advanced Bridle Math
  • Chain Motors
  • Etc.

A great strategy for structuring your notebook is by looking at the EXAM CONTENT for the test you are taking. The exam content will help you decide which books to study. Then, you can organize your notebook based on the chapters/lessons within that book. For example, the ETCP Arena Rigger exam content includes formulas and forces, so you study from Delbert Hall’s Rigging Math Made Simple 6th ed. to which you dedicate each subject of the notebook to one (or a few) lessons from that book.
​Do what works best for you!

3. The Cornell Method

While there are many popular styles of effective note-taking systems, let’s do THE CORNELL METHOD for today. Check it out:

​The right side of the notebook is for notes. At the top, write the TITLE of the chapter you’re reading. In the left margin, write the chapter HEADING or TOPIC. The rest of the page is dedicated to NOTES.

​Also, write down VOCAB WORDS in the left margin and use the rest of the line for the DEFINITION. Write complete thoughts but keep it simple and use BULLET POINTS to be concise. For the MOST EFFECTIVENESS, paraphrase notes using your own words. And again, using color aids the memory process!
Cornell Notes Organize

The left side of the notebook is for QUESTIONS and anything you need CLARIFICATION on for later. This helps you STAY FOCUSED on the current material. Don’t interrupt your state of flow and distract yourself down the YouTube or Internet rabbit hole. Otherwise, you’ll never finish reading that chapter!

​*NOTE* I LOVE using the internet and YouTube for studying. I just do separate time blocks for those types of studying activities.

Leave yourself some lines for ANSWERS and CLARIFICATION. Personally, I write answers in red (that’s just how I roll). I also use the left side of the notebook for ADDITIONAL NOTES I may want to include later.


​Traditionally, Cornell notes include a SUMMARY written at the bottom of the right page. You could even do a summary at the bottom of the left page instead.

​*NOTE* You know you understand the content if you’re able to teach it to someone else.

4. Symbols & Abbreviations

While studying for a rigging exam, chances are you’re gonna write certain keywords thousands of times. To save valuable paper real estate (and to save time keeping up with a live speaker), create a system of SYMBOLS and ABBREVIATIONS. Below are some examples. Some may seem obvious, but feel free to use these examples and build upon your own system!

5. Visuals

Our brains are incredible visual processors! Various types of visuals such as DRAWINGSSKETCHESPHOTOSICONS, LOGOSSYMBOLS, and CONCEPT MAPS support transforming learning into memory. Learning is solidified more so when you physically put pen to paper and when you are able to make ASSOCIATIONS with the concepts you are learning (especially if those associations are based on EXPERIENCE and/or emotions). Consider printing out photos and writing important facts behind them to memorize. Boom! Flashcards!


​At the end of the day, what matters most is that you implement techniques that best serve you. I hope you found these tips helpful. Share this article if you did! Good luck, rig safe!