Agent's Perspective - San Francisco-Oakland “Bay Lights” Project: Digital Art Here to Stay


When both bridges celebrated their 75th anniversaries, San Francisco showered the Golden Gate Bridge with an elaborate fireworks show while the Bay Bridge’s birthday went by seemingly unnoticed. For decades the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge had been considered, when it was considered at all, as a headache for commuters and a place not to be in in the event of a major earthquake. 

That all changed in 2011 when the non-profit arts organization ILLUMINATE, in cooperation with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and world-renowned artist Leo Villareal collaborated to create a stunning living display of 25,000 LED lights along 1.8 miles of cables on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. 

The Bay Lights, as the project is referred to, was first unveiled in March of 2013 and was originally intended as a short-term installation (concluding on March 5, 2015). Overnight the bridge lights became a local and global “must see” attraction. Since its inauguration, The Bay Lights has received widespread public support and positive reaction, as well as political support from state and local politicians including Jerry Brown, Gavin Newson, and the SF Board of Supervisors. 

Due to popular demand the project was re-installed as a longstanding feature of the Bay Bridge with permanent, more robust fixtures that were re-lit on January 30, 2016 in a ceremony where the lights were gifted to the State of California. The new lights are brighter (utilizing 25,000 nodes of eW Flex Compact) and better able to weather the elements. The new installation also incorporates ActiveSite, a cloud-based connected lighting platform that helps to minimize downtime and allows for more efficient management of the iconic landmark with benefits including remote diagnostics, reporting, data analytics, and control. 

On March 8,2014 the documentary Impossible Light world premiered at the SXSW Film Festival. The film followed the supporters who wished to produce The Bay Lights as they searched for funding and obtaining permits. The film also screened as part of the 57th San Francisco Film Festival in 2014.