Celebrating Solutions

The great fix and the great gift
June 14, 2013

Our brilliant technical team—let’s just call them heroic— after much in-the-field trouble shooting and critical analysis this last month have successfully begun implementing the preliminary solution to the visual issues many of you may have witnessed on The Bay Lights: LED lights stuck in the off or on position due to the extremely harsh conditions of the San Francisco Bay environment. The way that this team quickly came together to identify the problem and develop a solution that will have The Bay Lights looking beautiful through this busy summer is an amazing modern-day tale of creativity, generosity and integrity.

Trouble Shooting

A gift for making the Impossible Possible

The Bay Lights is world-recognized as an unprecedented piece of public art … due to its monumental scale, the permitting required, and the community generosity needed to make it happen. Where else but in the Bay Area could innovators and believers of such an audacious project create a privately funded, public work of art as a gift to San Francisco and the world!

You may have heard this project was short $1.5 million dollars of it’s $8m total. We’ve received a significant gift from WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg—an act of generosity that retires our Finishing Fund—all $1,500,000 of it! There’s a poetic beauty to this gift in that it comes from the same person who gave the very first financial gift to the project, $100,000 to get the ball of generosity rolling when the project was still an impossible dream.

More good news

By working together to solve the environmental and hardware issues, the way looks clear for permitting The Bay Lights to remain illuminated from dusk until sunrise each night, with the possibility of permanence definitely on the table!

The choice to be bold

The Bay Lights is an audacious artistic and engineering endeavor. A vast community came together to create a living sculpture unlike any public art installation attempted before. The response has been unprecedented. The work is internationally beloved. A palpable energy shift has occurred in San Francisco. The Embarcadero is enjoying a vibrant nightlife. People are out walking. Waterfront businesses are booming.

A problem is noticed

But the news hasn’t been all good. Over the past month we began to notice problems with the artwork. Some of the 25,000 LED lights were stuck in the on or off position. At first it was barely noticeable, but by mid-May the pace of the problem worsened, prompting swift and concerted action on the part of The Bay Lights technical team.

The team’s goal was straightforward: quickly figure out what the problem was and find a way fix it. However, troubleshooting such a large and complex project required great rigor. Along with a thorough analysis of 1.8 miles of hardware and software, the team also had to factor in the unique and harsh conditions of the San Francisco Bay environment: high winds, rain, fog, salty air and non-stop bridge vibrations from a quarter-million vehicles per day. An energetic and sustained collaboration ensued.

An answer is found

The team has conclusively identified the problem: extreme environmental conditions are causing some of the 25,000 LED nodes to become faulty. The nodes are the product of Philips Color Kinetics. Philips—a valued member of The Bay Lights technical team from the very beginning–was the only light manufacturer considered for the project given the installation’s grueling environmental conditions and its long and positive history of working with The Bay Lights artist Leo Villareal. The company engaged fully in troubleshooting the problem, has taken full responsibility, and has committed to correcting the problem as quickly as possible. Philips’ unwavering commitment to art, innovation, quality, and the people of the Bay Area has never been more forcefully on display. We could not be more delighted to have them as a key player on The Bay Lights team.

Resilience is brilliance

The team’s solution has two phases. In recognition of The Bay Lights importance to the region’s economic and cultural vitality, for the near-term temporary repairs by the technical team and careful reprogramming of algorithms by Leo Villareal will have the artwork continuing to shine during The America’s Cup and into the busy summer months in Bay Area. Over the summer a long-term solution will be developed. The unequivocal goal is to have The Bay Lights restored to full and robust technical strength this fall.

Love and light

We understand The Bay Lights is already a beloved piece of public art and are committed to transparency during this process. We will provide regular updates as we know more about how the LED issues will be corrected and The Bay Lights restored to its full technical integrity!

The Bay Lights evolves

Innovators embrace the most daunting challenges. Leo’s custom-made software has performed flawlessly, and it’s a testament to his generosity that he is actively re-engaging with the technical team to help us to restore this extraordinary public art to its full technical integrity—while the public gets to watch an international artist finesse a major piece.

To Leo, the lighting challenges are an integral part of a constantly evolving, site-specific piece that responds to its environment—even harsh weather conditions. In the midst of reconfiguring the light sculpture, Leo said, “Evolving and responding to the challenges of this extreme environment is exciting, because the resulting technology solution opens the door for The Bay Lights to stay up permanently.”

Watch the story unfold

The Bay Lights News page will be updated regularly with news from the field and links to must-read articles and videos.

We are going to get this right and we will arrive there together

There has never been a better time for our community as a whole to rally together in support of this beautiful piece, recognizing that monumental challenges come with such unprecedented innovation, and even finding ways to be extra supportive of this moment.

This is the moment to get engaged, to show your love for the project even more. There are still 18,000 lights available at gift.thebaylights.org for sponsoring and you can participate in the Light a Night program at thebaylights.org/light-a-night, all of which helps fund the continuance of The Bay Lights Nightly Live Stream, the Video Archive and Community Instagram Gallery, as well as exciting new public art projects from The Bay Lights nonprofit presenting organization Illuminate the Arts.

Thank you for your continued brilliance!