By Jared Shelly
When residents of San Francisco or Oakland look toward the Bay Bridge these days, they may just hold their gaze for a while longer. Each night, 25,000 LED lights strung along the bridge illuminate in non-repeating patterns -- flickering, dimming and brightening to dazzle the eye.
"It's like a crackling fireplace that 50 million people can stand around and watch," said Ben Davis, founder of Words Pictures Ideas, the San Francisco agency that created the lighting project.
Running along the two-mile, 500 feet tall bridge, the Bay Lights project may be the largest light sculpture in the world. The installation, which will run until 2015, is eight times the scale of the Eiffel Tower's brilliant 100th Anniversary lighting in 1989.
The project commemorates the bridge's 75th anniversary and, at least for a brief moment in time, takes some of the attention off of the historic and more popular Golden Gate Bridge -- allowing the Bay Bridge to shine -- literally.
But lots of artists have lots of ideas for installations or art projects that would look good or make sense in different cities. How does one go from a creative idea to a finished product? Surely it takes an artist committed to a project but it also takes a driven business group.
In the case of the Bay Lights, getting the project to the finish line was an exercise in collaboration. The organizers commissioned artist Leo Villareal to create a non-repeating algorithm for how the lights should flicker and brighten. (He'd previously done light installations at art museums around the world.)
But bringing the civic community on board was another matter. Davis and his team had to convince a number of players that the lights would be installed safely and securely, including the City and County of San Francisco, Caltrans (the state agency responsible for highway, bridge, and rail transportation construction), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Oakland's transportation authority), the Bay Area Toll Authority and private donors.
Those stakeholders were excited by the idea of the project but couldn't give their approval until Davis and his team did one thing: insure it.
That can typically stop an artist in their tracks.
"It's hard for creative people to wrap their heads around the idea that they need insurance," said Davis, who is also chair of Illuminate the Arts, the non-profit formed to bring the Bay Lights project to life.
But Davis and his team welcomed the idea of insurance -- and that impressed insurance broker Hugh Coyle, West Coast real estate development & construction practice leader at Integro Insurance Brokers in San Francisco.
"This isn't their first rodeo as far as major artistic installations, exhibitions," said Coyle. In fact Illuminate the Arts created the Pi in the Sky project in late 2012, where an artist known only as Ishky used several airplanes to skywrite the first thousand digits of the mathematical anomaly Pi over the city of San Francisco. The event celebrated the ZERO1 Biennial -- a months-long festival celebrating the coming together of art and technology.
For the Bay Lights project, Caltrans recommended that the team hire Coyle to take on the job of selling this risk to an underwriter -- and the task was mighty. The project had no precedent and each light needed electrical power and networking capabilities. There were also plenty of what ifs:
* What if a worker falls 500 feet into the water while stringing the lights?
* What if the weight of the lights throws off the suspension and weight distribution of the bridge?
* What if the wind knocks the lights out of place and they are suddenly facing down, directly into the eyes of drivers below, causing a 20-car pileup?
* What if a driver claims that the lights distracted him or her, leading to a car accident?
* What if the power generated from the artistic lights cuts off power to the actual street lights, causing an accident?
To get those risks covered, Coyle went to the excess and surplus market, placing a broad blanket policy to cover not only the artist and planners but also Caltrans, the Toll Authority and the City and County of San Francisco. He created an owner-controlled insurance program for the physical structure of the construction maintenance with a primary layer of $1 million and excess of $10 million.
Then he placed a builders' risk program covering the work and the physical project installation. He also made sure to include non-profit general liability coverage as well as directors' & officers coverage to protect the project planners.
The Bay Lights team was so impressed with Coyle that when the broker moved to Integro Insurance Brokers from Willis in June 2012, they moved right along with him.
To mitigate risk, the team hired Bleyco Inc., a construction firm which had completed other projects on the bridge. The firm provided workers to hang lights who had worked on the bridge in previous capacities.
"Nobody working on the bridge was unfamiliar with working on the bridge," said Davis.
Another risk mitigation technique was the use of specially designed clips which allow the networking wires to be held securely without being pinched -- even in the face of high winds or large vibrations.
While construction is certainly Coyle's area of expertise, the broker is no stranger to the art world, having worked on coverage for the deYoung Museum and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco during their demolition and reconstruction phases. (The deYoung Museum project was a $200 million deal while the Academy of Sciences project was in the $250 million range, he said.) The Bay Lights project, on the other hand, won't be quite as lucrative for Coyle -- and he's fine with it.
"This is the smallest OCIP project I've ever placed. $8 million in cost but the issues surrounding it are just cool and I wanted to make sure I was a part of this because it's a neat thing," he said.
Coyle's creative brokering helped Davis and his team in their meetings and negotiations with civic leaders and private donors, bridging the gap between the creative free thinkers and the pragmatic business and insurance folks. Coyle said that creating that understanding is pretty simple if you follow some basic rules.
"Always try to translate insurance into plain English so your audience can understand -- whether it's a developer or an artist," said Coyle. "You have to bridge the gap to make them get it. You don't want them to be insurance experts but you have to educate. Fortunately Ben is super sharp and runs a business himself and understood concepts of the insurance piece."
Now with all the insurance in place and demands met from the different civic players, the bridge shines brightly each night.
"It was a massive problem-solving challenge," said Davis. "It's amazing how physical and raw it really is from up close. Its cables, light nodes, transition boxes, cable boxes and zip ties, but it looks elegant and magical from afar."
JARED SHELLY is senior editor and web editor of Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 12, 2013
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