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Remember the Bay Lights? They’re Flipping Back On Soon

Artist Leo Villareal arrives in December to start tinkering.

Some of the lights were on for testing Tuesday night.


Even though the reinstallation of the Bay Lights isn’t scheduled to officially light up until January, parts of the 1.8-mile-long light sculpture have started to flicker on. On election night, the section of the bridge nearest San Francisco was lit up, and we had to wonder if the Super Bowl—the deadline for the reinstalled Bay Lights—is coming early. So we called Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate, the nonprofit behind the work, to see what’s up.

Teams have been installing the lights for the past six weeks or so, and nearly all the LED strings are on. Over the next month, the lights will be networked together, and come December, artist Leo Villareal will come to town, laptop in tow, to tinker with the algorithms that will control the newly installed lights. 

On January 30, the lights will officially go on in what’s sure to be a heavily Instagrammed fireworks celebration on the waterfront. At that point, ownership of the sculpture will officially transfer to the State of California, in exchange for stewardship of the artwork. Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority will share responsibility for its upkeep.

Villareal’s programming won’t necessarily be the same as what played for two years, says Davis—though we dearly hope the little racing tendrils of what we choose to believe is Karl the Fog will return. “Everyone, including the artist, was delighted with the Bay Lights’ original interpretation, but there is the ability for [Villareal] to come out with two years’ distance and rethink it,” Davis explains. “Because technology has improved, he’ll be able to play more quickly and experiment without as much hindrance.”

All that time, Villareal will be coding the light patterns from “undisclosed locations” that may or may not include Marin, the Embarcadero, the Golden Gate Bridge, various piers, and the Bay Bridge itself. “Anyplace you can see the bridge, he’ll want to have the ability to interpret it from any angle,” explains Davis.

All that beta-testing will unfold live because, well, it has to. “You can’t do this in your garage and pull a sheet off it and show it to the world,” he says. “You have to do it in front of everyone.” 


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