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November 16, 2017

Why San Francisco is an Awesome City for Light Art

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.

Experience Illuminate SF Festival of Light, Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day

Winter nights are long, giving residents and visitors a perfect opportunity to explore this dramatic blend of technology and art. 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 dozens of dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations as soon as the sun goes down.

During the Festival, you have a rare opportunity to see installations on view throughout the city’s neighborhoods and 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. Light art experiences continue to multiply since 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 TourFree nighttime neighborhood tours are conducted during the Festival. Explore Embarcadero, Dogpatch, Central Market, Civic Center, SoMa and more neighborhoods via walking and motor coach. The tours showcase the light art in its 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 Touritineraries 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 Light Art Related Events: 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.

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 peek of what’s new for 2017:

Hope Will Never Be Silent and The Seed
At the bustling intersection at the center of the historic Castro neighborhood, you’ll find these two new works that commemorate the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equal rights. Hope Will Never Be Silent immortalizes the words of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. The Seed is a collection of large LED dandelions that symbolize how a single wish that is blown away can inspire a movement.
This large-scale animated text-based neon artwork is the first permanent public artwork in the United States by artist Hank Willis Thomas. Though he is based in New York, Thomas has deep ties to San Francisco and its arts and culture scene. He's also a 2004 graduate of the California College of the Arts. You can find it in Annie Alley in SoMa.

This 20-paneled, platonic polyhedron on display at Bar VIA uses an optical illusion, the Moire effect, to bend the light emitting from the center. If you line up the corners just right, you will see a new dynamic pattern appear between the curves. It was created by the HYBYCOZO team, whose other works are on display during the festival.

This big, bright, and groovy light art installation at the Conservatory of Flowers that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is getting restyled for the holiday season. Visit before Nov. 26 to see the current, flower-powered production and go back again later to see the new work debuting in early December.

Make Plans to Attend the Illuminate San Francisco Festival of Light 
The light art that you can experience year round gives San Francisco yet another point of distinction. And the Festival this year gives visitors an opportunity to take part in the artistic 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 While you’re there, don’t forget to join the mailing list for updated information about this year’s event.

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