Neon Speaks Festival and Symposium

By Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna

September 10, 2022

Are you ready for two weekends of stunning neon art, film, and history?

The biggest and brightest documentary film ever made about neon is aptly titled “NEON”, a dazzling homage to the beauty of neon light by Lawrence Johnston. An online watch party for this film was the opening night for the 5h annual Neon Speaks Festival & Symposium (but you can still stream it on various platforms).

This festival is a *virtual and in-person* gathering of neon enthusiasts, preservationists, and artisans that educates and advocates for the artistic legacy of historic neon signs: a living archive of design, craft, and city history. Spread across two weekends September (9-10-11 & 17-18), Neon Speaks features ten events. Local features include a shop tour and demo of Neon Works in Oakland, an in-person neon walking tour of Alameda, and a virtual walking tours of midcentury nightlife via matchbooks and neon in the East Bay.


Neon Speaks has gradually become an international symposium with behind-the-scenes explorations of neon organizations in Vancouver, Canada; Kansas City, MO; Lisbon, Portugal; Brisbane, Australia; and Warsaw, Poland.

Explore the full schedule and register individual events or for an Online All-Event Passport at Neon Speaks.  And if you register you will get links allowing you to watch most sessions at later times if you missed or can’t make all that interest you. 

Neon Speaks is a not-for-profit program presented in proud partnership with the group’s fiscal sponsor, the Tenderloin Museum, and the Museum of Neon Art.

Neon Nirvana at the El Capitan in Hollywood; Photo: Lawrence Johnston

Whether you have been curious about the noble gas from witnessing neon’s singular glow in the city’s characteristic fog, or you are a preservationist ready to go hands-on in a restoration project, Neon Speaks has an illuminating program for you that will bring you into deeper into the fold of the (inter)national neon community. Tune in to Neon Speaks and find your people.

If you are new to Neon Speaks but have always loved neon, the movie explains what the buzz is all about.


“I’ve always loved the visual beauty of neon, and the glow particularly,” explained Lawrence Johnston “I was interested in the story of neon, and I got caught up in the invention of it, and the origins, and how it spread across the world, especially through North America, changing the nightscapes of cities.”

Photo: Lawrence Johnston

The film was shot mostly in America in 2016 in the neon “hotspot” cities that are known for neon through Hollywood films. Johnston said. “I went to America, to Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles. There had never been a film about neon of this length. There had been shorter films, but the ambition was to not only cover the invention and introduction to commercial signage making, but also to popular culture and the movies.”

Johnston’s NEON dwells on the beautiful aspects of neon, and how nighttime in many cities was transformed in one generation. Don’t expect a dry history lesson, Johnston explains: “It’s a very romantic film in that it’s about something that is handmade, and that has always been handmade, it’s about the beauty of the craft, and also people’s appreciation of it as an art form.”

Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan live in San Francisco. They are the co-founders, producers, and hosts of the annual International Neon Speaks Festival & Symposium. Through the fiscal sponsorship of the Tenderloin Museum, they formed a tiny not-for-profit organization, San Francisco Neon, to advocate for the preservation of the artistic legacy of historic neon signs via talks, tours, events, sign design, consultations, and books.

In 2018 SF Neon joined forces with the Tenderloin Museum, the OEWD, and SF Shines for create an initiative to restore vintage signs in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, “Tenderloin Neon A-Z

Al and Randall Ann are the authors and photographers of San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost IconsNeon Icons catalog, and Saving Neon: A Best Practices Guide.

Read more about Neon at EatDrinkFilms

Neon Bar Signs on a Cold Night in Late November

For great neon videos and more enjoy

Eat My Shorts – The Stolen Moment- Film Noir‘s Neon Nights and Making Cocktails

For more info about NEON SPEAKS go to   

IG @sfneonbook
IG @neon_speaks

Buy Neon goodies here.


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