During the third annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light, from Thanksgiving 2015 through New Year’s Day 2016, art lovers can embrace the power of light and tour San Francisco’s public art installations by a diverse range of local and world renowned light artists. Five free tours are scheduled throughout the 36-day program.
The 2015 Illuminate SF Festival of Light celebrates 27 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations — 11 more than last year and three times the number of the inaugural celebration in 2013 — accessible by public transit and free for all ages. Held during the longest nights of the year, Illuminate SF Festival of Light features free light art tours, nighttime neighborhood walks, artist talks and participatory experiences. Many of San Francisco’s intimate neighborhoods will also light up shopping districts, streets and galleries, and host participatory holiday activities.
The works come to life at dusk throughout 12 San Francisco neighborhoods with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class restaurants, clubs and cultural events in neighborhoods along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, SoMa, Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Five Free Guided Tours
Five free tours lead by Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours (including one by bicycle) are the centerpiece of the festival. The itineraries include dramatic light art works and exclusive access to artists, locations and experiences.
- North Beach and Embarcadero Light Art Tour - Dec. 3, 2015, 6 p.m. at Jack Kerouac Alley near Columbus Avenue. This motorcoach and walking tour includes; Language of the Birds with artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn, the brilliant and interactive sculpture Soma by artists the Flaming Lotus Girls and participants will witness the live testing of The Bay Lights by artist Leo Villareal as he finesses the installation from a remote location in anticipation of the Grand Relighting on Jan. 30, 2016. Tours end with an optional visit to the Exploratorium's After Dark: Glow event.
- Dogpatch and Bayview Light Art Tour - Dec. 11, 2015, 5:30 p.m. at Museum of Craft and Design, 2569 Third St. This motorcoach and walking tour includes the Museum of Craft and Design and other surprise stops, plus Bayview Rise by artist team Haddad-Drugan with Port of San Francisco’s David Beaupre demonstrating how the imagery appears animated due to the programmed illumination of the mural's different colors.
- Yerba Buena Museums Light Art Tour - Dec. 17, 2015, 6 p.m. at California Historical Society, 678 Mission St. This walking tour includes Elise Baldwin’s projected-light installation Field of Vision, PaRDes and the Lamp of the Covenant at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, plus Lightswarm and Murmur Wall, two temporary installations by Future Cities Lab commissioned by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
- Illuminate Your Ride Light Art Bike Tour - Dec. 20, 2015, 6 p.m. at Cupid's Span in Rincon Park, Embarcadero. Take a fun and easy illuminated bike ride on a mostly flat, four to five mile route beginning at the bow-and-arrow sculpture Cupid's Span by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The route passes holiday light and light art works including Soma, Language of the Birds, Skygarden, "...and my room still rocks like a boat on the sea" (Caruso's Dream), Murmur Wall, Lightswarm, Yud and PaRDes with brief stops for socializing along the way.
- Central Market and Civic Center Light Art Tour - Jan. 7, 2016, 6 p.m. at the Federal Building, 90 Seventh St. This motorcoach and walking tour includes, Skygarden by renowned artist James Turrell, Constellation by Nayland W. Blake, at the San Francisco Public Library, "... and my room still rocks like a boat on the sea” (Caruso’s Dream) with one of the artists, Brian Goggin, and Eric Staller with his Lightmobile, a Volkswagen Beetle lit with 1,659 lamps.
Reservations are required and last year’s tours filled quickly. Visit www.iIluminatesf.com for full tour details and to sign up.
Self-Guided Tour Itineraries
Light lovers may explore on their own using four self-guided light art tour itineraries which highlight SOMA/Yerba Buena, Central Market and Civic Center, North Beach and the Embarcadero, and Dogpatch and Bayview and together feature nearly 20 light art installations. Itineraries are available on the website, suitable for download, printing and mobile viewing.
Illuminate SF Festival of Light also celebrates light-oriented “Illuminating Events” such as the Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, Nutcracker Under the Dome at Westfield San Francisco Centre, Snowflakes on Market from First to Ninth streets, Union Street Fantasy of Lights, and many others.
Museums and Galleries
Visitors may experience two exciting exhibits featuring light art or technology which are exclusively featured during the 2015 Illuminate SF Festival of Light. NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology features a diversity of works by nine Bay Area artists and is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum through Jan. 17, 2016. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) features two temporary installations, Murmur Wall and Lightswarm. Both works may be seen near the entrance to the museum and have related events and programming. The newly restored Three Gems, by artist James Turrell, remains a not-to-be-missed installation tucked away within the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden of the de Young Museum.
As the home of Burning Man, light art is a way of life in San Francisco as evidenced by projects such as Light Up Central Market at Market and Turk streets between Fifth and Seventh, and David Best’s The Temple, temporarily on view in at Patricia’s Green at Octavia Street near Linden. As part of the 2015 City Hall Centennial, San Francisco’s City Hall and the War Memorial Building both boast highly sophisticated programmable LED light systems each with more than 5,000 options. The Ferry Building features special event lighting celebrating the centennial of the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition and the new Traffic Control Tower at San Francisco International Airport features a vertical ribbon of glowing glass.
The Bay Lights
“No recent development underscores San Francisco’s leadership in light art more strongly than the news that The Bay Lights will return as a permanent icon of the city’s landscape on Jan. 30, 2016,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. “Its dazzling debut on March 5, 2013 served as the inspiration for Illuminate SF’s inaugural celebration of the many brilliant public artworks that transform San Francisco each night into a citywide gallery of light.”
December offers the rare opportunity to witness an artist at work as Leo Villareal tests his iconic light sculpture in anticipation of its permanent installation on the western span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Once lit, The Bay Lights will shine indefinitely as a gift to the people of California, thanks to the generosity of private donors and Illuminate the Arts.
27 Light Art Installations
There are 16 permanent light artworks within the city’s 49 square miles including:
- Constellation*, by Nayland W. Blake (1996), San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St., Civic Center
- Three Gems, by James Turrell (2005), de Young Museum, Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, Golden Gate Park
- Ocean Mirror with Fragments, by Jim Campbell (2007), Saunders Court, UCSF, Inner Sunset
- Skygarden, by James Turrell (2007), 90 Seventh St. facing Mission Street, Central Market
- Language of the Birds*, by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn (2008), Broadway and Columbus Avenue, North Beach
- PaRDes, by Daniel Libeskind (2008), 736 Mission St., Contemporary Jewish Museum, SOMA
- Yud, by Daniel Libeskind (2008), 736 Mission St., Contemporary Jewish Museum, SOMA
- Firefly*, by Ned Kahn (2012), 525 Golden Gate Ave. at Polk Street, Civic Center
- The Bay Lights, by Leo Villareal (2013), San Francisco Bay Bridge West Span, Waterfront
- Lumina, by MADLAB (2013), 181 Third St., W San Francisco Hotel, SOMA
- …and my room still rocks like a boat on the sea…(Caruso’s Dream), by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn (2014), 55 Ninth St., south of Market Street, Central Market
- Archipelago*, by Anna Valentina Murch (2014), 1001 Potrero Ave., San Francisco General Hospital , Potrero
- Ethereal Bodies 8*, by Cliff Garten (2014), 1001 Potrero Ave., San Francisco General Hospital, Potrero
- Handsignals*, by Matthew Passmore/MoreLab (2014) McCoppin Street at Valencia Street, SOMA
- Lamp of the Covenant, by Dave Lane (2015), 736 Mission St., Contemporary Jewish Museum, SOMA
- Spiral of Gratitude*, by Shimon Attie (2015), 1245 Third St., Mission Bay
Six permanent light art installations at San Francisco International Airport include:
- Ceiling Flood*, by Keith Sonnier (1999), International Terminal, Boarding Area G, Level 2, Post-Security
- Four Sculptural Light Reflectors*, by James Carpenter (2000), International Terminal, Main Hall, Level 3, Pre-Security
- Light Beams for the Sky of a Transfer Corridor*, by Vito Acconci (2000), International Terminal, A-G, Level 2, Pre-Security
- Sky*, by Merge Conceptual Design (2014), Terminal 3, Boarding Area E, Level 2, Post-Security
- Spirogyrate*, by Eric Staller (2014), Terminal 3, Boarding Area E, Level 2, Post-Security
- Wind Portal*, by Ned Kahn (2000), International Terminal between BART Station and AirTrain
Five temporary light art installations in San Francisco include:
- Urban UFOs, by Eric Staller (1985 and 1986), Random sightings during Illuminate SF Festival of Light
- Bayview Rise, by Haddad-Drugan (2014), Pier 92 near Third Street and Cargo Way (through 2019)
- Soma, by the Flaming Lotus Girls (2009), Embarcadero, Pier 14 (through July 2016)
- Lightswarm, by Future Cities Lab (2014), 701 Mission St., YBCA (through Oct. 31, 2016)
- Murmur Wall, by Future Cities Lab (2014), 701 Mission St., YBCA (through May 31, 2017)
San Francisco-based light art and design companies include:
- Lumio, by Max Gunawan, was created from a desire to give people the freedom to experience beautiful lighting wherever they are. Based in San Francisco, Gunawan spent 10 years as an architect before launching Lumio. Named one of “2013’s Top 10 Most Innovative Crowdfunded Companies" by Entrepreneur magazine, his work employs minimal, clean-line design and centers on optimizing the use of small spaces.
- Pablo, by Pablo Pardo, designs have been propelled to the forefront of American contemporary lighting by an uncompromising devotion to simplicity and utility. By fusing the highest technical sensibilities with the most appropriate material palette, Pablo is able to create unique, timeless designs with the power to transform any environment. Pablo was founded in San Francisco in 1993 by Venezuelan-born industrial designer Pablo Pardo.
Illuminate SF and Illuminate SF Festival of Light is presented by the San Francisco Travel Association in collaboration with local civic, arts and cultural partners.
The Illuminate SF website, created in partnership with Storied.co, is a year-round resource with photographs, videos, art maps, events listings, artist information, best viewing tips and more to make artworks easy and accessible.
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* San Francisco’s Civic Art Collection encompasses more than 3,500 objects, including historic monuments, murals, paintings, sculptures, installations and other media. The San Francisco Arts Commission oversees this rich and diverse collection, which helps distinguish the city as an important cultural destination. To learn more visit sfartscommission.org.
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