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November 3, 2016

Why San Francisco is an Awesome City for Light Art

Illuminate SF is an annual event and will be back next year! Check out our website for current events and festivals.


You may not be familiar with light art, but San Francisco aims to change that. It’s an original art form that creates artwork by exploiting light, colors and shadows. San Francisco is proudly represented by the now permanent, 1.8 miles of LED lights that span the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Treasure Island. The Bay Lights aside, San Francisco also has one of the most extensive collections of permanent light art in the country. Known for innovation and technology, along with a staunch commitment to public art, light art in the center of a tech town makes a whole lot of sense.

Take Part in the 2016 Illuminate SF Festival of Light

If you haven’t seen light art before, this is the perfect opportunity. You’ll be fascinated by art that is poetry in motion. If you love light art, you won’t want to miss the Festival this year.

San Francisco celebrates this unique art form with an annual festival that runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and shines a light on 35 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations as soon as the sun goes down. The nights are long, giving residents and visitors a perfect opportunity to explore this blend of technology and art.

During the Festival, you have a rare opportunity to see installations on view within 12 neighborhoods and four museums, meet the artists, and come together with the art community to celebrate the city and its public art through various participatory activities. And, since most installations are free for everyone to see, you can bring the entire family along. With four times the art than the festival’s inception in 2013, visitors may experience works by 31 participating artists, many internationally renowned light artists such as Leo Villareal and James Turrell

How to Enjoy the Illuminate SF Festival of Light

Take a Tour: Three, free, nighttime, neighborhood tours are conducted during the Festival. Explore Embarcadero + Dogpatch, Central Market + Civic Center and Yerba Buena museums via walking and motor coach. The tours showcase the light art in their optimal setting, featuring San Francisco as a shining gallery of light, and give visitors exclusive access to artists, best viewing locations and illuminated experiences.

Take a Self-Guided Tour: itineraries are available in conjunction with a map of all light installations in the city and tours are organized by neighborhood. For example, for the North Beach/Embarcadero self-guided tour, you can walk, ride your bike or travel on Muni, and the Central Market and Civic Center neighborhood is a cultural and high-tech mash-up. Your tour takes you to see well-known works of art such as Caruso’s Dream by local artists Brian Goggin & Dorka Keehn, where 13 pianos intertwined with lights will surely inspire you to seek out more light art.

Check Out the City’s Brilliant Ideas: The lights of San Francisco are always inspiring, but some go beyond mere illumination. You’ll be guided to seek out additional happenings throughout the city and get detailed information on not-to-miss events.

Attend Museum and Gallery Events: Each year, several of the city’s museums and galleries coordinate exhibitions of light-related art to coincide with the Festival. This year, visitors can experience light art on view at four San Francisco museums – SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Contemporary Jewish Museum and the de Young - each featuring docent-led tours of the works. Be sure to see what they come up with this year.

Start at the Airport: Are you flying into the San Francisco International Airport to begin your holiday visit? If so, you can get a head start by viewing the three light installations that are accessible only once you're past security. If you’re meeting someone on an inbound flight, look for the three installations located before security and accessible to all.

Here’s a Sneak Peak

Murmur Wall: Yerba Buena Gardens is graced with a number of spectacular light art installations. Murmur Wall, by Future Cities Lab is located at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and is completely accessible by the public. Naturally, the best time to visit is after dark.

This piece of art combines artificial intelligence with a magnificent light display. Murmur Wall scans local internet activity to determine what the city is thinking and talking about. That information is shown using digital displays, electronics and acrylic tubing. Not only is it an amazing piece of art, but you can keep up with the heartbeat of San Francisco when you visit.

Bayview Rise: Located in Mission Bay, Bayview Rise is a permanent,illuminated mural on the grain elevator and silos of Pier 92, situated on San Francisco Bay at the north entry to the Bayview district. Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan create work about phenomenology and perception; Bayview Rise is about the interaction of color and light, with imagery representing a transforming community.

Language of the Birds: This impressive piece of artwork is located in North Beach. It consists of 23 lighted books that emulate birds in flight. LED lights create patterns, and words in different languages appear as if embedded on the plaza floor. The sculpture is a tribute to the communities that come together in this neighborhood, representing American, Chinese and Italian legacies.

Buckyball: Located in the Embarcadero is a stunning temporary installation on view through Feb. 26, 2017. Experience Buckyball by Leo Villareal, a towering 25-foot illuminated sculpture that enlivens the Exploratorium's public space in both daylight and moonlight. Inspired by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, the spherical soccer ball-like form features two nested geodesic spheres comprised of 4,500 LED nodes arranged in a series of pentagons and hexagons. (Scientists discovered the form in a carbon molecule in 1985 and coined it the "Buckminsterfullerence" or "Buckyball", which is avidly being researched by scientists and material engineers).

Make Plans to Attend the Illuminate San Francisco Festival of Light 

The light art that you find gives San Francisco yet another point of distinction. And the Festival this year gives visitors an opportunity to take part in the art community that makes San Francisco one of the greatest art cities in the world. For more information on the Festival and installations viewable all year long, visit IlluminateSF.com. While you’re there, don’t forget to join the mailing list for updated information about this year’s event.

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