Bay Bridge lights to go dark amid efforts to save, refurbish art installation

ByKeith Burbank, Bay City News
Sunday, March 5, 2023
Bay Bridge lights to go dark amid efforts to save art installation
'The Bay Lights' on the Bay Bridge to go dark Sunday amid efforts to save and refurbish the art installation.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A canvas of light is coming down Sunday after illuminating the western span of the Bay Bridge for 10 years. But with enough donors, it will come "back in a more glorious manifestation," its founder Ben Davis said Friday.

The Bay Lights have been shining in the Bay Area for many to see despite exposure to grit, grime, and 24/7 vibration over the last decade.

Now it's time to take them down as they are failing faster than they can be repaired in a cost-effective manner.

RELATED: Bay Bridge lights seen flickering during evening commute

"I'm confident that they will come back," Davis said in a phone interview, explaining what residents might see when they do.

Davis wants more people in the Bay Area to be able to see the lights and he wants drivers to travel through a "portal of public art at night."

Currently, drivers on the bridge cannot see The Bay Lights except in their rearview mirrors. The proposed project will produce a gently undulating pattern of low-wattage, monochromatic light up to 230 feet overhead for 1.8 miles.

Lights will be wrapped around the cables on the northern side of the western span in the re-creation. Currently, lights are on only one side of the cables.

"There's a sense of mystery and magic to the piece," said Leo Villareal, the artist who worked with Davis to create the light installation.

VIDEO: Timelapse of Bay Lights installation

Watch this time-lapse video of The Bay Lights. Thursday night is the last night to enjoy the show before they go dark until 2016.

People see the lights and cannot help but say something to the person walking next to them. It binds people together, Villareal said. It's not about language or imagery but something deeper, he said.

The light patterns produced The Bay Lights never repeat. The original installation took 2.5 years from initial conception to completion, Villareal said.

The challenge, which Davis and others are working on, is to be sure that the new installation does not distract drivers. He is working with traffic engineers and the California Highway Patrol to ensure driver safety.

In the last 10 years, the light installation has not caused a single traffic problem, Davis said, and that's involving travel on the bridge equivalent to going to the sun and back 40 times.

"It immediately became an iconic image for the Embarcadero, enticing visitors to the city," said Jill Manton, director of public art trust and special initiatives for the San Francisco Arts Commission.

RELATED: Golden Gate Bridge granted $400M in federal funds for repairs; Bay Bridge still in need of donations

Manton helped secure approval from the commission and helped write the resolution in support of it for the commission.

After it comes down, it could take eight to 10 months to reinstall following a fundraising campaign that is ongoing. Davis is trying to raise $11 million to fund the project for the next 10 years.

He is looking for 10 donors who can give $1 million each along with $1 million in crowdfunded donations. Details of the efforts so far will be revealed Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at Epic Steak, which is at 369 The Embarcadero and looks out on The Bay Lights.

The new creation will have double the current number of lights, or 50,000 LEDs. Gifts to the new installation can be made at here. More than $51,000 had been raised as of Saturday afternoon.

"The Bay Lights have become one of the icons of San Francisco, and we hope the fundraising campaign to save this important light art installation is successful, so they can come back even bigger and better than before," said Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, the official destination marketing organization for the city.

"We encourage San Francisco businesses and residents to support the efforts to keep The Bay Lights illuminating our beautiful city for years to come," D'Alessandro said.

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