Spotlight on Grace McCann Morley’s Progressive Vision

“If art of today is today overlooked, or misunderstood, the loss is serious,” Grace McCann Morley wrote in a 1950 essay for The Pacific Spectator. “…The first responsibility of museums of contemporary art is to help as broad and as large a public as possible to understand, appreciate, and use art of its own time.”

SFMOMA’s founding director was a vocal and energetic advocate for accessibility, community, and inclusivity in modern art and museums. She was a progressive leader, rebuffing prevailing elitist philosophies during her tenure as director from 1935 to 1958. Morley championed diverse and local artists and fiercely opposed censorship. She kept doors open late to sustain community programming and engagement when it was needed most. Her ideals remain as relevant and important now as when she first espoused them at the museum’s first home at the War Memorial Veterans Building.

We celebrate Morley’s 120th birthday this November with a collection of archival materials that illuminate her legacy. At a time when our institution and our country are considering their path forward, her clarity of purpose and authentic progressive vision are an inspiration.