Vast light installation on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge goes dark amid $11m fundraising effort to keep it on


The lights have gone out in San Francisco, and by all accounts, it will take upwards of $11m to turn them back on.

After a decade of perpetual illumination, the iconic Bay Bridge art installation known as The Bay Lights (2013) was switched off at 8pm on 5 March, with organisers citing outages, cable issues and slow surrender to the area’s harsh weather patterns. Plans to remove the lights are afoot.

The artwork by serial bridge illuminator Leo Villareal, consisting of nearly 25,000 tiny LED lights, has stretched over the 1.8-mile expanse between San Francisco and Oakland since March of 2013, becoming a fixture of the Bay Area’s built environment and elevating the visibility of a landmark that is often overshadowed by its sister bridge, the Golden Gate.

“The current set of LEDs that are up there are failing at a rate faster than we could keep up with them,” Ben Davis, founder of Illuminate, the non-profit responsible for the installation, told The New York Times. “Rather than let it decay into oblivion, which is not a good look for San Francisco, we’re doing the responsible thing, taking it down.”

The organisation hopes to raise a total of $11m—$6m of which has already been secured—to refurbish the artwork. Davis estimates that the endeavour will take eight to ten months, and could begin once Illuminate has $10m in hand. If the organisation secures the funds, Villareal will direct the installation of around 50,000 LEDs, making the artwork more clearly visible to onlookers all across the San Francisco Bay. According to Davis, the final $1m of the money necessary to refurbish the work will be crowdfunded.

Both Davis and Villareal are optimistic that their fundraising efforts will work. “There’s a certain sadness to not have that be part of the landscape,” Villareal told the Times. “It’s really become part of the fabric of San Francisco.”


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