baylights
The Bay Lights

By Kelly Leslie
Photos by Virginia Tieman

It’s a crisp, clear Friday evening in San Francisco- the kind that only happens after an incredibly beautiful day. The sun is setting over the city. The smell of seafood and the taste of the salty ocean are heavy in the air as residents change out of their suits, ties and dress shoes, in exchange for their favorite night-out attire. Although the swift hustle of the city hasn’t missed a beat, people walking the piers of the Embarcadero can’t help, but stop and stare into the glimmering night sky, not because the stars are out, but because of twenty five thousand LED lights twinkling from the Bay Bridge.

The Bay Lights is an art installation in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Bay Area’s renowned bridge, connecting the shores of San Francisco and Oakland. Inspired by Ben Davis, the catalyst of the project, and designed by artist Leo Villareal, the display stretches 1.8 miles wide and rises five hundred feet into the sky. The mounting process spanned approximately four months and required a team of eight electricians working nine hour night shifts from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., every Monday through Friday. The process began in mid-October of 2012. The installation will be on display for two years.

“I have many hopes for the lights,” says Davis. “I want to prove the power of a creative collaboration to transform a community economically and culturally.”

The installation, fully funded by private donors, cost eight million dollars. In return, it is expected to contribute ninety-seven million dollars back to the economy through increased tourist rates and special events themed around the lights. Experts say the impact of the lights is projected to be seven times the scale of the one hundredth anniversary lighting of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The lights have only been lighting up the Bay Bridge in testing phases over the past two months, but have already inspired a undeniable momentum of change around the city. Restaurants and businesses alike have altered their menus in honor of the light’s arrival.

Chaya, a popular waterfront restaurant known for its unique combinations of French and Japanese cuisine, offered a special five-course meal the night of the Bay Light’s “Grand Opening” ceremony, which happened on March 5th at 9 p.m. The event was called, “Turn on the Lights,” and lasted for three days after the ceremony.

Yacht businesses such as Hornblower cruises and events, also offered special dinner cruises, and invited residents and tourists to dine aboard for the special night.

The lights symbolize a culture of generosity… everyone has to do their part,” says Davis. The response of the city, “has been nothing but positive and truly inspired.”

Davis wishes for the momentum to increase and the lights continue to positively impact the city of San Francisco through the shared experience of art. He hopes that this inspires other people to think of their own big ideas to contribute to the economy and the culture of the city as well.

“If you want to change the world around you, you have to love and care, and be authentic,” says Davis. “You have to take risks.”