Goodbye to the Bay Bridge Lights: San Francisco’s Iconic Display Set to Shut Off After a Decade

After a decade of illuminating the San Francisco waterfront, the Bay Bridge light display is set to go dark on Sunday at 8 p.m.

The largest public artwork in the Bay Area has captured the hearts of both tourists and locals with its 25,000 sparkling LED lights on the 1.8-mile western span of the bridge. Unfortunately, the lights are failing at a rapid pace and cannot be replaced fast enough. As a result, the nonprofit organization responsible for the display, Illuminate, is seeking $11 million to install a new, more resilient system.

Initially, the “Bay Lights” installation was created to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the bridge, but private donations have since funded the display for the past ten years. The nonprofit’s founder, Ben Davis, explains that the display has become a symbol of the vitality of San Francisco and the Bay Area, making it hard to imagine the city without it.

The light installation on the Bay Bridge was celebrated as the largest of its kind in the world at the time, four times larger than the Eiffel Tower’s display in Paris. Leo Villareal, the New York light sculptor who wrote the software for the display, aimed to capture the energy and flow of the Bay Area’s elements, including cars, ships, tides, winds, fog, fish, water, and birds.

Despite the need for a new system, Davis and Villareal are not giving up on the campaign to keep the lights on. They plan to use the $11 million in donations to double the number of lights and wrap them around both sides of the cables, making them visible to drivers on the bridge and on both sides of the span. Villareal will continue designing the light show, and the display will undergo “beautiful refinements.”

The nonprofit aims to raise $10 separate $1 million donations from wealthy donors and philanthropists, and they have also launched a public crowdfunding campaign for the last $1 million. Although the nonprofit has raised $6 million so far, they hope the crowdfunding campaign and donation effort encourage Bay Area residents to take pride in their civic responsibility.

Illuminate’s decision not to seek art grants from San Francisco is a noble one, as they aim to support smaller arts organizations throughout the city. Davis reminds us that philanthropy can be fun, especially when we do it together, and every donor has the opportunity to become part of the Bay Bridge’s iconic symbol.

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