The Hearts in SF can’t be beat, and the 15th year of this wholehearted fundraiser for the SF General Hospital Foundation starts with the artist-designed hearts going up around town today. There are also tiny versions available until midnight tonight.

A San Francisco Valentine’s Day tradition beats on another year, as the Hearts in San Francisco project started its 2020 display with a 9 a.m. ceremony this morning at Union Square. SFist was unable to attend this morning, because we partied too hearty at the new hearts’ premiere party last night at Oracle Park. But we got pictures of all these killer new hearts that will now adorn our fair city for the next several months, and spoke to the artists about this year’s batch of five-foot-tall, six-foot-wide, 400-pound installations that they really put their hearts into.  

“I chose to make the heart gold, as we are the Golden State, and to shine light into the world,” says longtime street artist Eveline Darroch who designed the piece with Ian Montgomery. “The sun is copper leaf with pigment from The Netherlands that was milled by windmills, and it’s the same pigment used in the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. The orange color that you can see under the gold leaf is International Orange. the color of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Yes, those are the ubiquitous graffiti koi fish by stencilist Jeremy Novy, seen here being very shy. “As artists, sometimes we face mental health situations,” he tells us. “The fact that this money is going to San Francisco’s mental health facilities is a really important thing.”  

A number of the artists have deep personal reasons for painting the hearts, or being involved with the project. “Two years ago, SF General saved my life,” says Laine Wiesemann, seen here with her heart. “It was a grapefruit-sized tumor around my heart. They saved my life, we kicked ass together.”  The acrylic mural painted flowers are angel trumpets, meant to symbolize the angels (family, friends, SF General hospital staff) who helped her through this period.

The back of this work is pretty cool too!

The hearts will be on display at various spots around town, before going to the private donors or Wells Fargo branches that bought them. “I know that Intel bought my heart,” says Naomi Dubin, seen here with her hot air balloon-butterfly heart. “What I don’t know is where Intel is.”

This year’s Hearts in SF project has already raised an estimated $5 million for mental health and addiction programs run by the SF General Hospital Foundation, which is technically not the same thing as Zuckerberg SF General Hospital. “The hospital is an entity of the City and County of San Francisco,“ says Hearts in SF chairperson and foundation board member Skyler Hudak. “Because it’s a city-run institution, you can’t make a donation. The foundation was born to accept contributions and then figure out how they could be distributed to inspire better patient care, more innovative programming, and to support the doctors and nurses the resources they need to be a world-class institution.”

The foundation started the heart program in 2004, based on a similar project called CowParade that started in Switzerland. “They celebrate the cows because the cows and their milk allow their economy, with their cheese and their chocolate, to flourish,” Hudak explains. “The cows are an integral part of the economy there.”

The big hearts you see on the streets generally sell for around $50,000-$100,000. But there are also 25-inch Table Top hearts like the Doggie Diner hearts seen above, for a much more affordable price. “I actually grew up a few blocks away from the Doggie Diner by Ocean Beach,” says this heart’s creator Emerald Maher. “When me and my best friend were little and our parents weren’t there to watch us, we would walk over there and spend all our days playing Marvel vs. Capcom and eating chili cheese fries. This is what inspired my heart.”

Image: Kevin Byall

In his obligatory appearance and speech, former mayor Willie Brown noted the program has raised $27 million in its 15-year run. “Actually it’s $30 million, but who’s going to correct the mayor,” quips foundation board member Pam Baer.

Even if you are not getting any snuggling or action on this Valentine's Day, the Hearts in SF projects has got to bring a little love in your heart. “This project was started long before Instagram or social media existed,” Hudak says. "They have become one of the most Instagrammable symbols in San Francisco.”

Related: The 12 Best Public Art and Street Art Works in San Francisco [SFist]

Images: Joe Kukura, SFist