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March 15, 2013

Public Art Brightens up the Bay Bridge

Watch New Art Installation Lights Up San Francisco's Other Bridge on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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On March 5, 25,000 LED lights spanning 1.8 miles illuminated the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco, Calif., to create the world’s largest light sculpture.

The Bay Bridge carries 270,000 cars and trucks every day across the San Francisco Bay, but is often overshadowed by the celebrity of its neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge even though the two were built at the same time at the end of the Depression.

The LED display on the bridge, known as The Bay Lights, is redefining public art, both with its $8 million dollar, which has been financed so far by public donation, and with its vertical flashing cables that abstractly depict the movement of water and wind around the bridge. Viewers will never see the exact same progression of sequences on the LED cables twice.

This high tech light display can be seen for miles, however Bay Bridge commuters will not be able to see the lights while driving; a design meant to prevent driver distraction. It took workers months to set up the light structure, which towers 525 feet over the water’s surface. Now, the light sculpture will be illuminated every night from dusk until 2 a.m. for at least two years, when the bridge will need repainting.


“This is going to bring, in my estimation, hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. I think we’re going to smash all records for public art,” – Ben Davis, Illuminate the Arts.

“It doesn’t take much to understand because it’s a gorgeous piece. I think it’s beautiful, it’s delightful. It fulfills all those requirements I think that the public wants in terms of a piece of public art. I think I can safely say it’s pretty universally liked,” – J.D. Beltran, San Francisco Art Institute.

“Many times, the public feels like because they don’t understand a piece, it’s being shoved down their throat, and they don’t like it, and they will be very vocal about it,” – J.D. Beltran, San Francisco Art Institute.

Warm up questions

1. Where is the Golden Gate Bridge located?

2. What is public art?

3. Can you think of any public art in your town?

Discussion questions

1. Why do you think cities spend money on public art? Do you think it’s worth it?

2. What do you think of the art piece itself?

3. How can art benefit a community?

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