Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

Remember those rainbow lasers over Market Street? They’re coming back, twice as big

An artfully blurry image of rainbow laser beams in Downtown San Francisco with an F-Market streetcar.
San Francisco arts organization Illuminate will bring back its rainbow ‘space laser cannons’ over the full length of Market Street for Pride Weekend. | Source: Courtesy Joshua James Sandoval

In what is becoming an annual Pride Month tradition as visible as the Pink Triangle atop Twin Peaks, “laser space cannons” will soon project a sweeping, iridescent array over the entire length of Market Street from sunset to sunrise this weekend.

This year’s rainbow, created by San Francisco arts organization Illuminate, is considerably more advanced than “Welcome,” its 2022 debut, when the setup consisted of six lasers, one for each of the colors of the LGBTQ+ Pride flag. This year, there will be 20 lasers in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the “Winter of Love,” that month-long period when San Francisco City Hall issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of state and federal law.

“We’re radically redefining the hardware and software to this expression,” Illuminate founder Ben Davis said of this year’s piece, which will shoot the beams from the Ferry Building up the 4.1-mile length of Market Street and over Twin Peaks. “Our vision, over time, is that Market Street and the Pride lasers become to the world over Pride Weekend what the ball drop is to New York City on New Year’s Eve.”

Friday’s debut will include a poignant moment at the laser cannon’s base: Veteran LGBTQ+ rights advocate Cleve Jones is set to officiate the recommitment ceremonies for two activist couples who were among those who got married during the Winter of Love, only to see their unions voided by the California Supreme Court one month later.

Rainbow laser beams shining over Downtown San Francisco are reflected in a puddle on the street below.
Illuminate will expand the six lasers that debuted during Pride Month 2022 into a 20-laser array this weekend. | Source: Courtesy Matthew Cerrudo

Davis refers to the laser cannons as a “monumental art form” in their own right.

Illuminate is the impetus for other large-scale public artworks, including the Golden Mile on the car-free section of Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive and Leo Villareal’s soon-to-return Bay Lights. As with last year’s light display on Coit Tower and other city landmarks, this year’s laser cannons are part of Illuminate’s larger “Summer of Awe,” which will include another projection through the rose window of Nob Hill’s Grace Cathedral, this time with extended public viewing hours. While Illuminate has issued a $150,000 crowdfunding campaign to bring the Market Street laser array back, Davis confirmed to The Standard that its return is all but assured.

“This is happening either way,” he said. “We’re eating into our seed corn to make this possible.”

Illuminate last projected the lasers above Market Street in November during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Although the beams for that conference shone in a more muted, pastel palette than the brighter hues of the Pride flag, onlookers observed some magical-looking effects when it rained.

It’s unlikely to rain much in late June, but another atmospheric phenomenon could provide an assist. “Lasers tend to get more interesting the thicker the fog gets,” Davis said. “We have named Karl the Fog as the artist-of-record on this. We’re just the people putting photons in space.”