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Art in the News: The Bay of Lights is Unveiled in San Francisco

Lauren Heller

Posted by Lauren Heller of Stellers Gallery at Ponte Vedra Beach on

Category: In the News

Last Tuesday March 5th, artist Leo Villareal and the non-profit Illuminate the Arts unveiled an enormous public art installation in San Francisco, entitled The Bay of Lights.  This outdoor sculpture consists of 25,000 white LED lights, spanning 1.8 miles across and 500 feet in height.  Luckily, part of the structure was already in place…The Bay of Lights was created to highlight and celebrate the San Francisco Bay Bridge, turning the structure into a “stunning fine arts experience” (according to the project’s website) every night from dusk until 2AM.  Each light is individually manipulated by a computer program devised by Villareal to generate intricate moving patterns across the bridge’s western span.  The art installation is projected to “dazzle” 50 million viewers during its two year existence.   

Not surprisingly, a sculpture of this magnitude comes with a sizable price tag.  In this case, the purported $8 million cost is being raised through private donations, which can be made by anyone on-line.  Most of the viewing population, however, will get to enjoy this world-renowned artist’s work for free (no lines, no admission tickets, and no crowds blocking the view!).  Additionally, Villareal is estimating the piece will bring in $97 million to the local economy, mainly through extra tourism dollars. 

Will people make a special trip to San Francisco just to see The Bay of Lights?  I think the answer to this question is still unclear.  Yet, given the popularity (and/or notoriety!) of other large public art installations, it is worth considering what these monumental projects can do for a city, or more importantly, what they say about the city to the rest of the world. 

In 2008, the artist Olafur Eliasson brought his vision to life in New York City with The Waterfalls.  This display featured four man-made waterfalls (created from scaffolding), which sprayed water up and out of the East River from as high as 120 feet!  And of course, how can we talk about monumental public artworks without mentioning Christo and Jeanne-Claude?  In 2005, this artistic duo installed over 7,000 “gates” along Central Park’s many pathways, draping each one in a generous swath of saffron-colored fabric.   

While The Gates may not have been embraced by all New Yorkers, the project did receive nation-wide media attention…and it got people talking about art!  It got people debating what could be considered art!  And it got people visiting the city to see and make decisions about The Gates for themselves.  Projects like The Bay of Lights, The Waterfalls, and The Gates show that cities like San Francisco and New York value community beautification, creative enterprise, arts education, and bold action.  When reading about The Bay of Lights, I couldn’t help but think of Jacksonville, the seven bridges city!  Could Jacksonville benefit from a monumental public artwork?  Do you think that any economic advantage from these displays actually materializes?  And as a follow-up, if these projects do not provide a financial boost to a local economy, are they still worthwile in other ways? 

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Stellers Gallery at Ponte Vedra Beach
Stellers Gallery of San Marco
Stellers Gallery of San Marco
3139 Philips Highway, Suite 100
Jacksonville, FL 32207
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