$8 Million San Francisco Bay Bridge Art Project Hoping to Attract Tourists


By Dawn Cranfield

The Bay Lights Project on San Francisco’s West span of the Bay Bridge will light up the night for the next two years with 25,000 LED lights.  The display will feature rippling designs, with the lights spaced 12 inches apart and having 255 settings of brightness each.  The computerized sequence, designed by artist Leo Villareal, will never repeat itself.  The result is a spectacular light sculpture.

The “digital campfire” as Villareal refers to it, will come on nightly at dusk and remain on until 2 a.m.  The energy efficient lights will cost just over $10,000 per year to run.

Villareal was inspired by his experiences in the Bay Area, his work in a research lab in Palo Alto, and from attending the Burning Man Festival.  “‘What people will be seeing are abstract sequences which are inspired by the kinetic activity around the bridge,’ said Villareal. ‘It’s not literally traffic or the water or any of those sorts of things.’” (cnn.com)

The $8 million art project is estimated to attract 50 million people to the area over the course of its lifespan.  Officials are hopeful the

Leo Villareal
Leo Villareal

added tourism will generate revenue of $97 million for the local economy.  So far, $6 million has been raised by organizers of the project.

Light can be fascinating and beautiful to see especially when an artist painstakingly creates beauty in a space previously left cold and empty.  This is not the first time light has been used to attract guests; many cities have beautiful skylines that create an artistic picture against the night sky, Disneyland created the World of Color and Fantasmic, stars themselves are a light show, as well as planetariums.

However, when was the last time you specifically went to a city or a destination simply to look at a static symbol or view?  While the bridge may be a peripheral sideshow to all of San Francisco’s many other offerings, an $8 million project for a state with so many financial woes seems like an epic fail.  To get $97 million in tourist dollars from a great Kodak moment appears highly unlikely.


Disney's World of Color
Disney’s World of Color



Bay Bridge Light Installation


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