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The Bakowski Bridge of Lights

Art and technology energizing Shreveport–Bossier

The Bakowski Bridge of Lights

Photo by Neal Johnson

Over the last decade, cities from London to Dubai, Singapore to San Francisco have transformed their bridges into breathtaking canvasses of light illuminating the rivers and reinvigorating the cities where these sprawling structures make their connections. This innovative public art approach is breathing new life into cities. In summer 2021, Shreveport and Bossier City are painting a spectacular palette of LED light, art, color, and creativity over the Red River with the Bakowski Bridge of Lights.

In large part due to a $1 million donation from Dr. and Mrs. George Bakowski, 13,000 LEDs will illuminate 2,982 feet of the Long–Allen Bridge. The new interactive LED lighting heralds a transformational era of urban design, pairing artists with technology experts to harness the power of artful lighting. “The Shreveport and Bossier City communities have supported my optometry practice for forty-five years, and Sandra and I have decided to give back in a way that brings these cities alive with light, instills civic pride, and unites the people like nothing else will,” said Dr. George Bakowski. “I hope ours is the first step in incentivizing others to contribute to a new era of vitality for our area of northwest Louisiana.”

As the designated “Public Art Arm” of the City of Shreveport, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) is enlisting a team of artists, designers, and IT professionals to create this state-of-the-art bridge lighting system. SRAC is also counting on this team to commit to using the project as a pipeline for training young artists for professional art careers. “Shreveport is alight with creativity, talent, and public-private cooperation,” said SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison. “The Bakowski Bridge of Lights is going to astound people with its interactive and constantly morphing colors, shapes, and forms. It will be a show-stopping statement on the skyline of our two cities—all designed and programmed by our own NWLA artists and IT professionals.”

William Joyce, Academy Award–winning filmmaker and best-selling author, will create the first design to debut the Bakowski Bridge of Lights this summer. He said, “It will be like nothing I have ever done before—a fundamental shift in our skyline, turning the bridge into a light sculpture in a dynamic, ever-changing way and pushing technology as far as we can push it to see what we can accomplish.”

Keith Hanson, chief technology officer and smart cities director for the city of Shreveport, will be the primary IT professional programming the lights for the bridge. Hansen is excited about multiple pieces of the Bakowski Bridge project, especially a ten-foot model that will give his team of programmers an opportunity to push artists’ animation from the computer screen to the model before bringing it to life on the Bakowski Bridge of Lights. “This work is a cool blend of the ideas and skills of technologists and artists. As technologists, we will be bringing Bill’s and other artists’ creative vision to life on a three-thousand-foot canvas ninety feet over the Red River. I will also have the opportunity to mentor young minds in art and technology to hopefully catapult them into a new career,” said Hanson.

“We think the energy and excitement of the Bakowski Bridge of Lights has endless possibilities for uniting Bossier and Shreveport,” said Pam Glorioso, longtime Bossier City chief administrative officer. “It will be an interactive public art piece that helps spark energy into the East Bank District of Bossier City and serve as a catalyst for economic development along the Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier and Shreveport.”

The transformation of the bridge will be a beacon for attractions and special occasions. People can purchase bridge lighting designs for special celebrations and announcements. Lighting programs can feature causes such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Casinos, the aquarium, and Sci-Port Discovery Center can offer viewing opportunities. And major I-20 interchanges will invite visitors to drive the animated light experience. When the switch is flipped on the Bakowski Bridge of Lights during the summer of 2021, William Joyce hopes “thousands of people will line the riverbanks on both sides to watch the bridge become a living, breathing entity illuminating the river as it comes to life in a pulsating, crescendo of music and energy.”

Funding for the Bakowski Bridge of Lights comes from the Red River Waterway Commission, the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority, the National Endowment for the Arts, Will Atkins, and Dr. and Mrs. George Bakowski.