SFMOMA began the first quarter of 2021 with an earnest look inward — with renewed dedication to transforming our culture from the inside out — along with a reaffirmed commitment to centering underrepresented voices and expanding the stories told in our galleries.
After two prolonged closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum was finally able to open with a Free Community Day on March 7. Highlights of our reopening exhibition program include Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis, comprising seven local artists’ responses to the myriad challenges of the past year, and the series Bay Area Walls, featuring vibrant wall commissions by local artists Muzae Sesay, Liz Hernández, and Marina Perez-Wong and Elaine Chu of Twin Walls Mural Company, as well as photo-based projects by Erina Alejo and Adrian L. Burrell that explore murals created during the pandemic in San Francisco and Oakland. New Work: Charles Gaines opened on our fourth floor with two powerful works that investigate the history of racism in the U.S. by returning to the 1857 Dred Scott Decision; also this month the museum publicly announced a transformative gift of works from the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, celebrating Black American artists of the 20th century — several of which are already on view throughout the museum. While we have successfully opened our doors, there remains much work to be done within our walls.
SFMOMA’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey continues daily, led by a Core Team of trustees and staff from across the organization that was formed in summer of 2020. The new year began with a series of DEI discussions and educational workshops for all staff and Board, and feedback sessions for the museum’s DEI Statement of Intention — slated for completion later this spring — which aims to establish a baseline of shared understanding to support DEI action plans going forward.
Grounded in the Statement of Intention, Project Teams with specific areas of focus will continue formulating action plans to be included in SFMOMA’s DEI Strategic Plan, slated to be finalized in summer 2021. We have urgent work to do and realize it can take time to move forward together in inclusive and intentional ways. As we continue on this complex journey, we remain committed to sharing regular progress updates on the Institutional Commitments originally made in July 2020 (below) and to welcoming your thoughts and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARCH 2021 Update on Institutional Commitments
- Conduct DEI trainings with Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees completed three in-depth trainings with DEI consultants Leverage to Lead in spring 2021.
- Task leadership and supervisors with creating employee work plans that allow staff to dedicate paid time each month toward DEI work and community volunteering. In March 2021, SFMOMA announced and implemented a new internal policy that allows employees to allocate up to ten hours per month in DEI-sponsored efforts and initiatives at the museum.
- Participate in a collaboration/paid intern partnership with the Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective, a consortium of three historically Black colleges and universities: Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University. Summer interns in the Department of Painting and Sculpture concluded their remote internships and made final presentations on August 27, 2020.
- Begin plans to publicly share a breakdown of the racial and gender diversity of our staff, trustees, and collection, as we strive to diversify the museum. The Collections and Curatorial departments continue conversations about the complex challenges around placing data about artist identities in a collections management system (CMS). While valuing the importance of that ongoing conversation, in January 2021 the Collections team commenced the process of readying the CMS to receive meaningful, carefully expressed data about artist backgrounds. On a parallel track, the Curatorial department is developing a fresh process for connecting with living artists about biographical information, as well as information about their works. The project is conceived as having three parallel tracks:
- Track A – Collections: research, review, and express data related to deceased artists
- Track B – Collections: research, review, and express placeholder data related to living artists (replaced subsequently by self-reported data)
- Track C – Curatorial: ask living artists directly about their identities
- Continue to expand and diversify collections and works on view, with an increased focus on the sustained presence and prominence of works by underrepresented artists in the galleries. Hire curatorial staff who can support these efforts. The Curatorial staff continues to broaden the stories told in collection displays, with a particular emphasis on amplifying Black and other underrepresented voices. Newly installed works by Black American artists, including 31 works by 20 artists from Pamela Joyner and Fred Giuffrida’s gift to SFMOMA, further our efforts to provide a full representation of the history of Modern and Contemporary art. The Curatorial division is committed to increased diversity at every level. The division continues its search for new staff members which launched in fall 2020.
- Revise our exhibition review process through a DEI lens to make this process more transparent and inclusive throughout the museum. The first pilot for the Exhibition Development Process rolled out in October 2020. More voices were incorporated (including all senior staff and project/content producers, a new values rubric, and staff opportunities to pitch project ideas as part of the new workflow). Robust analysis from Exhibitions and Program Management followed to determine project scope and budget size. Much was learned from initial meetings and they continue to evolve. Exhibition Development meetings are held approximately five times a year for sizable exhibitions that require multiple stakeholders to contribute. Several DEI Core and Project Team members participate as part of the process. All meetings are recorded and available for staff to access and learn about exhibitions and the ideas that are generated that build content and scope.
- Pilot gender-neutral restrooms in our staff spaces, to be extended throughout the entire museum when funding allows. All staff restrooms (multi- and single-occupancy) on levels LL, 8, 9, and 10, and Single and Family restrooms in public spaces on museum Floors 1, 2, 3, and 4 have been made all gender-neutral using new signage (no physical retrofits). Additional restroom modifications are being explored for a possible Phase 3.
- Participate in Facing Change initiative. SFMOMA’s Board is currently participating in Facing Change: Advancing Board Diversity and Inclusion, a three-year program (2019–2021) created by the American Alliance of Museums.
- Museums and cultural organizations are not (and should not be) neutral; we need to address what this means for our work at SFMOMA. The DEI Core Team worked with consultants Leverage to Lead to create SFMOMA’s DEI Statement of Intention. The statement is being socialized to staff and trustees for input with a final version slated for late spring 2021. The Statement’s goal is to provide context for SFMOMA’s DEI work and to establish a baseline shared understanding.
- Develop a long-term programming partnership with one or more Black arts organizations in the Bay Area. We have had several conversations with a potential partner with whom we hope to work.
- Provide a professional development program for prospective staff in all areas of museum operations. Opportunities will be provided to staff in 2021 to participate in Talent/People training topics. Further programmatic developments are being evaluated to create pathways for our employees. Training and professional development opportunities are also being brainstormed with DEI Project Team deliverables.