Leo Villareal’s magical Bay Lights


Tonight, March 5, the western span of the Bay Bridge will be illuminated in the much-anticipated Bay Lights installation, created by internationally acclaimed artist Leo Villareal.

The project will incorporate an “intelligent lighting” system, powered by 25,000 individually programmable LEDs that will be illuminated according to “abstract sequences inspired by the kinetic activity around the bridge,” Villareal explained at a press conference at the San Francisco Ferry Building this afternoon. “It’s not a light show,” the artist noted, and added that he preferred to think of it more as “the equivalent of a digital campfire.”

Villareal, who has worked in software in addition to being an artist, emphasized that the lighting system is highly efficient, using only enough power to cost about $15 per night.

The project has been in the works for two and a half years and under construction for the last six months. Private funders have raised $6 million of the total $8 million needed. The presenting organization is Illuminate the Arts, a nonprofit organization.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, speaking at the press conference, emphasized an economic projection finding that the installation could result in $97 million in local economic activity. He expressed support for it as an important project for generating private support for public art. “This project has unleashed incredible generosity,” showing funders that “art is something exciting, and cool to get behind as a sponsor,” Lee said. “I think it will release even more generosity” for art in San Francisco, he added.

When the Guardian took the opportunity to ask Lee what could be done to help make San Francisco more affordable for artists in general, he responded, “I am very sensitive to that,” and said he was making an extra effort to work with the arts community, particularly those who “want to create art homes and art locations in mid-Market.” Lee added that even tech employees have expressed to him that they value living in a city where arts are thriving, so “we have to make sure there’s the right balance for that.”