Lighting Your Art Installation

One of the major design steps in bringing art to the playa is deciding how to light your art and incorporate lighting into your art. Lighting on playa requires daily maintenance, which can be undertaken during your daily MOOP sweep.

The goal is to make your art visible at night to:

  • Prevent destruction of your art from accidental art car/bike/pedestrian collision.
  • Prevent injury to participants.
  • Look awesome!

General Guidelines for Lighting Design

  • Use the 20-second rule. People should be able to see your art 20 seconds before they arrive at it.
  • Since art cars travel at 5 mph this means they should be able to see your art from (minimum) 150 feet away.
  • 360 degree safety and lighting is important. As most lighting is directional, ensure no dark spots in your lighting design by putting up spot-lighting or consider also adding perimeter lighting.
  • Lighting your art should be considered in the art’s design, not as an afterthought.

Perimeter Lighting

  • Marks your boundaries and keeps art cars at a safe distance from your art piece.
  • Can mark where you may have buried equipment or trenching.
  • Perimeter marking is best when higher off the ground, so it does not get buried beneath a layer of dust.

 Light Your Rebar

  • This structural part of your project is often overlooked and is one of the largest causes of injury on the playa.
  • Make sure to mark it well, bury it, or light it up!

 Enhance Your Lighting System

  • Mirrors, reflective tapes, reflectors, and other shiny surfaces can reflect not only your deliberate lighting, but also headlights from oncoming vehicles.
  • Sound objects like wind chimes can also provide additional assistance in protecting your art from oncoming vehicles not only at night but also during playa whiteouts in the daytime.


Forms of Light

There are many forms of light for you to choose from. See below for more info on approved forms, but please don’t use:

  • Chemical lights (“glow sticks”): they don’t last an entire night and are bad for the environment.
  • Fuel lanterns (tiki torches, etc): no unattended flames are allowed on the playa.

Acceptable Forms of Light

  • Electroluminescence
    • Highly portable, flexible, and customizable, electroluminescent (EL) panels and/or wire
    • Available in neon/fluorescent colors, different shapes and diameters
    • Can be powered with simple or sophisticated lighting controllers
  • Incandescent lighting
    • Highly accessible
    • Available in standardized packages
    • Generates light omnidirectionally
    • Consumes a lot more power, produces more heat, and is far more fragile than their updated counterparts
  • LEDs
    • Highly efficient, effective alternative to conventional lighting.
    • Compact
    • Available in an array of colors
    • Easy to power and control
    • Perform well in extreme environments
  • Neon
    • Highly efficient
    • Consumes little power in operation
    • Can last for years if utilized properly
    • Since neon tubes are made of glass, consider placing it out of reach to guard against breakage.
  • Rope lights
    • Available as incandescent bulbs or LEDs
    • Inexpensive solution
    • Can make a great demarcation, point of reference, and/or general area light
  • Small blinking (bicycle) lights
    • Easy to procure
    • Bright enough to warn on-comers of potential hazards
    • Do not cast much light on the surroundings
    • Should be used as warning lights only
  • Solar lights (garden lights, etc.)
    • For ground-mounted solar lights, consider lifting them up and off the ground in an attempt to keep dust from accumulating on the integrated solar panel and/or LED light, which can greatly impair their functionality.
      • Can be used for perimeter marking or accents, but not very bright and should not be considered main source of lighting.
      • If not staked down properly, can be blown away or get stolen.
    • For larger solar light installations that require solar panels:
      • See section below
  • Lasers
    • You should only consider using lasers in your installation if you understand the regulations surrounding them.


Power for Your Lights

No matter the source of power you’re using, it needs to be checked daily prior to sundown to ensure your art will be lit throughout the night. Take this time to also do a MOOP sweep! If you are having lighting issues your team can’t fix, make sure you get to the ARTery before 6pm closing time.

  • Small Batteries
    • Require daily swap-out
  • Car Batteries
    • Should be stored in a cool, dry place
    • Should be secured to ensure they don’t wander off
  • Generator
    • Needs to be secured within a generator box
    • Fuel needs to be arranged with Art Support Services

Powering With Solar

Solar is complicated enough to need its own section. Before acquiring components, it’s important to take the time to properly design your system around whatever you may be powering. Keep in mind that the more components you add, the larger the solar system will be. Always build margin into solar systems, be sure to account for no/low solar days, plan for worst-case scenarios and bring along additional components to perform onsite repairs. Solar systems require daily maintenance to remove dust and check connections.

This basic overview is designed around lighting loads, so these solar systems are considered small, at/under the 100 watt range.

The core components of a basic solar system consist of:

  • Solar Panel(s)
    • Generate low voltage dc power, typically 12vdc, identical to the power generated by your vehicle through a cigarette lighter plug.
    • When choosing your solar panel, think of how it’ll be mounted. Whether it’s ground-mounted (will require perimeter lighting), pole-mounted or mounted directly to your art, make sure that your solar panel is properly secured.
      • When securing your system, take wind load, dust, potential impeding shadows, and electrical grounding into account.
      • Mounting a solar panel flat reduces its efficiency. If possible, position your panel at a 45 degree angle and face it towards true south; this will increase efficiency and can help to keep the panel clean.
  • Charge Controller
    • A protective, inline device that manages the power produced by the solar panel
    • Prevents the battery from being overcharged and/or potentially damaged
    • Some charge controllers integrate a photocell and/or timer functions, enabling system autonomy.
      • If your charge controller does not offer these functions, you may consider adding one so you don’t have to physically turn your lighting on/off every day.
  • Battery
    • Size and capacity is determined by your power load
    • Important to have enough power to account for poor solar conditions
    • Prefers stable, cooler temperatures (keep out of direct sunlight, consider a ventilated enclosure which can also double as a space for other solar equipment and wiring)
  • Inverter
    • If you want 110vac (standard U.S. household-type power) instead of 12vdc
  • Wiring and Connectors
    • To connect solar panel to charge controller, charge controller to battery, battery to your lights.
    • Ensure all wiring is properly anchored to avoid potential trip hazards

 Re-using Your Lighting

  • Post-event, your lighting system can be used for future years if it is in good condition.
  • Consider donating your unneeded lighting objects to avoid them ending up in a landfill.
    • Check in with Eyes on Art at the ARTery to see if they are accepting donations of small solar lamps, bicycle lights, blinkies and other small lighting accessories.
  • If you are going to re-use your lighting system for another year, think about ways to improve it.

What is Eyes on Art?

  • Eyes on Art is a team that’s part of the Art Department.
  • It is not their job to light your art, but they are there to patrol artwork at night and check on the lighting status of artwork on the open playa.
  • If your art is insufficiently lit they will put out perimeter lights (if they are available) or they will put out perimeter cones to protect oncoming vehicles from colliding with your art.
    • These lights and cones should be returned to the ARTery in the morning.
    • ARTery staff will look to connect with your team to correct your lighting problems before the next nightfall.
    • It is important that you let the ARTery know where you are camped when you check in so that you can be located in case issues such as this arise.

Learn more about Eyes on Art.