Surprise! A massive public art installation has more or less snuck up on San Francisco this Pride Weekend.
Beginning last night at 9:30 p.m. and running until midnight, ‘Welcome’ will continue through Sunday, projecting six 4.1-mile laser beams in the colors of the rainbow flag, spanning the entire length of Market Street from near the Ferry Building to just south of the Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks.
Constructed at an impressive speed by Illuminate, the same team that helped turn the formerly weekend-long, daytime-only Pink Triangle into a month-long display of LED lights—as well as the creators of The Bay Lights, the light projections on the Conservatory of Flowers and other large-scale projects—it’s an unmistakable symbol of the city’s long commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ rights.
Originally eight colors—turquoise and pink fabric proved hard to source, so they were dropped—the now six-color rainbow flag is also very much a part of San Francisco. Within years after Radical Faerie and artist Gilbert Baker and his team created it in 1978, it’s become an instantly recognizable symbol of LGBTQ+ culture and visibility, with numerous variations highlighting the many identities and subcultures that are a part of human existence.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, widely considered the launching-off point for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, Baker developed a mile-long rainbow flag that was temporarily installed in Key West and, later, near the United Nations. This project, in other words, echoes Baker’s own designs—while giving a bit of a boost to San Francisco’s beleaguered downtown.
“The neighborhoods are coming back a bit, but Downtown on the weekends is just nothing,” said Debra Walker, a lesbian artist and, as of this month, a nominee for the Police Commission. “I knew Gilbert. He was an inspiration to so many of us and understood the power of symbolism in art.”
Her involvement was less artistic in nature and more as a well-connected, go-between—or, in her words, “a busybody, being a nosy person.”
“I didn’t even get called until two or three days into it,” Walker said of the project’s swift timetable.
“Welcome” attracted plenty of attention from locals, as well.
“It was an amazing way to ring in Pride Weekend and elevate my spirits,” said San Francisco resident Jay Harcourt, who headed Downtown on Friday night with his husband, Ryan Mattson, to get a better look. “With the Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks and now this installation, Illuminate the Arts has somehow managed to understand how San Franciscans like to celebrate Pride, and I’m here for it!”
Although fairly enormous in scale, the mechanism powering “Welcome” isn’t that complicated. Or, Walker said, it initially was, until Ben Davis, the creative force behind Illuminate, rethought the wiring.
“He made it really simple, to where you just had to plug it into a 110,” Walker said, referring to the voltage of a standard household outlet. “It was like a coffeepot. It didn’t need anything special.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org