The Bay Lights, The LED Art Project Backed By Big Tech Names, Kicks Off $1.2M Crowdfunding Campaign

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Just over a year ago, a large scale art project called The Bay Lights turned the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco Bay Area structure that’s historically been the plainer sister to the famed Golden Gate Bridge, into a glittering destination in its own right.

But as iconic as the Bay Lights have quickly become, it turns out that they’re not set to be here to stay. The original erection of the Bay Lights, a roughly $10 million project that was supported by high profile (and high net worth) San Francisco techies including Marissa Mayer, Ron Conway, Matt Mullenweg, and others, has a two year duration that will make the lights go dark in March 2015.

In order to bring the lights back and keep them going for another ten years, from 2016 to 2026, they’re going to need $12 million more. So Illuminate the Arts, the nonprofit behind the project, has turned to crowdfunding startup Crowdtilt to help raise the needed funds from a larger pool of people. The crowdfunding effort, dubbed “Keep ‘Em Lit Through 2026,” launched last night with the aim of raising $1.2 million in 45 days, which is ten percent of the ultimate goal. As of this writing, about $185,000 has been contributed.

It makes sense that the Bay Lights would seek out more tech-centered ways of raising money than your typical art exhibit, since the Lights represent a unique blend of art and technology. The piece itself consists of 25,000 low power LED lights which are attached to the 1.8 mile western span of the Bay Bridge, and switched on from dusk til dawn. All the lights are individually programmed with software algorithms that create a generative sequence making it so that the patterns never occur twice. The piece was created by artist Leo Villareal, who worked as a programmer in Silicon Valley in the 1990s before shifting his attention to art full time.

In an interview at an event Wednesday evening in San Francisco kicking off the crowdfunding campaign, Illuminate The Arts chairman Ben Davis said that The Bay Lights has reached a uniquely large audience. “More people will see the Bay Lights in its two year tenure than will visit the top 15 museums in the United States,” Davis said. “It’s fine art that people can see, without ever buying a ticket.” Not bad for a project that costs $30 per day in energy costs to run (the bulk of the project’s cost is in the insurance and labor costs of erecting and maintaining it on the bridge, and keeping it in compliance with California transit authorities.)

To contribute to the Bay Lights project, go here. And below, you can see a bit of the Lights in action, and watch a short interview that I conducted with artist Leo Villareal when The Bay Lights were first lit back in March 2013.