Celebrating Women in the Arts in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel
Bernice Bing in her North Beach studio, approx. 1958–1961. Photo by C.R. Snyder © The Beat Museum.jpg
Bernice Bing in her North Beach studio, approx. 1958–1961. Photo by C.R. Snyder © The Beat Museum.jp Credit: Beat Museum

Celebrating Women in the Arts in San Francisco

Booms and busts have always birthed cultural movements in San Francisco. As the city’s arts scene steps into the light of another renaissance from the shadow of the pandemic, dynamic women leaders are choreographing the next chapter.

San Francisco (March 11, 2024) — In honor of Women’s History Month, the San Francisco Travel Association celebrates women in the arts whose work amplifies San Francisco’s ethos of experimentation and creativity. San Francisco’s rich and diverse cultural scene features new exhibits, artistic programs and events led by dozens of dynamic and innovative women. Here are a few of those charting the next chapter.

Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet

Tamara Rojo’s blockbuster inaugural season as San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director features bold new global premiers such as Mere Mortals and beloved classics like Swan Lake. The current repertory season runs through May 5. SF Ballet will return to the War Memorial Opera House in December with performances of the Nutcracker. 

Expect even more innovation and spellbinding performances from SF Ballet in the years to come. In February, SF Ballet – the nation’s oldest professional ballet company – received a historic $60 million anonymous donation to fund new works and acquisitions of masterpieces and bolster Rojo’s and SF Ballet’s vision of revolutionizing ballet.

Emily A. Beeny, Barbara A. Wolfe Curator-in-Charge of European Painting at the Fine Arts Museums and Chief Curator of the Legion of Honor

This fall, the Legion of Honor marks the start of its 100th anniversary celebration. Emily A. Beeney, the newly appointed chief curator of the Legion of Honor and curator-in-charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will play a significant role by leading the curatorial and interpretation effort underway to present the historic collections at the Legion and the stories they contain through a fresh and inclusive lens. This initiative will involve selective gallery reinstallations and enhancements to the visitor experience.

A specialist in French paintings and drawings of the 17th through 19th centuries, Beeny will present Mary Cassatt at Work (Oct. 5, 2024–Jan. 25, 2025) to kick off the Legion’s 100th anniversary. Too often dismissed as a sentimental painter of mothers and children, Cassatt was a radical modernist and pioneering female impressionist painter and printmaker. The exhibition is the first major U.S. presentation of Cassatt’s work in over 25 years, and it is one of the Fine Arts Museums’ focused season of exhibitions emphasizing the groundbreaking works of historic and contemporary women artists. The Legion’s centennial celebration will continue through the fall of 2025 and offer audiences a special program of exhibitions and events closely tied to the collections on view at the Legion.

“I’m thrilled to begin this new chapter in my own career just as we’re about to begin a new century at the Legion of Honor. In this beautiful Beaux-Arts building, perched somewhat incongruously above the Pacific, the Legion is really San Francisco’s jewel box: a place full of treasures, stories, even secrets. I’m eager to find ways to bring more of that magic alive for our visitors and to remind San Franciscans that our collections belong to them,” said Beeny.

Joen Madonna, Executive Director, ArtSpan

Led by ArtSpan Executive Director Joen Madonna, the 50th annual SF Open Studios production (SFOS) marks a milestone for the nonprofit, which connects diverse audiences to local art and artists.

Themed From Disco Days to the Tech Craze: 50 Years of Championing Local Arts, SF Open Studios 50th production will expand to include local art and culture happenings across the city from June through November, with the annual flagship SFOS taking place Sept. 19 through Oct. 13. Since its launch in 1975, SFOS has grown into a month-long, citywide season of art held annually in the fall with over 800 participating artists and more than 100,000 visitors. It’s a testament to the enduring power of art to bridge communities and to the unyielding spirit of the artists who have been at the forefront of shaping San Francisco's cultural identity.

“ArtSpan is a beacon for the creative community that ensures artists shine as an essential part of San Francisco's legacy of groundbreaking artistic expression. San Francisco is a magical place that reinvents herself with the desires and drive of her people—so too does ArtSpan to support artists where their needs are greatest,” said Madonna.

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design and Head of the Department for Architecture and Design, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher is helping SFMOMA get into the game ahead of the 2025 NBA All-Star Game at Chase Center next February with a new exhibition exploring the powerful role of sports in contemporary culture. The Get in the Game exhibit (on view from Oct. 19, 2024, through Feb. 18, 2025) will examine how sports permeate culture, bring people together, and offer a critical lens through which to consider ongoing conversations about gender, race, national identity and the human body, as well as the will and desire to compete and succeed. Dunlop Fletcher, together with Christopher Bedford, Seph Rodney, and Katy Siegel, is curating the exhibit, which will be SFMOMA’s largest to date. Since 2008, Dunlop Fletcher has organized several key acquisitions and exhibitions at SFMOMA, focusing on bold visionary works of design from the late 20th century to the present.

“SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design collection and programming began with a focus on bold visionary works from the late 20th century. I’ve furthered this emphasis on radical thinking while also expanding the focus to include works and voices previously marginalized,” said Dunlap Fletcher.

Pam MacKinnon, Artistic Director, and Jennifer Bielstein, Executive Director, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)

Under the direction of Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon and Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein, A.C.T. is rolling out a blockbuster season of plays. Following the success of the world premiere of BIG DATA, A.C.T. will be staging the Pulitzer Prize finalist play Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord (March 30 – May 5), the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical A Strange Loop (April 18 – May 12), and the five-time Tony Award-winning production The Lehman Trilogy (May 25 – June 23).

“A.C.T. is thrilled to be making work with and giving platform to gorgeous and important theater artists. With versatile actors who bring their all to unlock the power of a character and story, or brilliant designers who create magical worlds, or unparalleled craftspeople in our costume, scenic and prop shops who realize the visions, San Francisco and Bay is full of creative, nurturing, innovative makers and dreamers,” said MacKinnon.

Bielstein added, “A.C.T. is proud to be an integral part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s vibrant and diverse arts ecosystem. We bring artists and Bay Area residents together to inspire and provoke through what they experience on our stages, and we think that the value we offer with a live, in person, communal experience is more important than ever in these times.”

Abby Chen, Head of Contemporary Art and Senior Associate Curator, Asian Art Museum

Since joining the Asian Art Museum as Head of Contemporary Art in 2019, Abby Chen has swiftly positioned the museum as an essential platform for emerging and established — as well as historically underrepresented — voices from Asia, the Asian diaspora and the wider Asian American community. In just a few short years, the award-winning exhibitions, attendant programs, and publications organized by Chen have helped the Asian Art Museum to reshape the narrative of contemporary Asian art outside of Asia. Chen’s experimental approach often explores the intersectionalities of race, sexuality, gender, nation, migration, and especially technology in the U.S. and Asia.

I want audiences to learn there is more to modern and contemporary art than what they’ve been told, that it is not a monolith in terms of gender, sexuality, culture, and place, but an intersection. How else can we do the essential, but hard work of redefining the story of American art to meaningfully include Asian American and diaspora voices?” said Chen.

With the addition of Senior Associate Curator to her title, Chen now leads the largest curatorial team at the Asian Art Museum. She helped the museum acquire the largest collection of SF Bay Area Asian artists, securing works by Bernice Bing, Zheng Chongbin, Jenifer K Wofford and Rupy C. Tut, among others. Chen’s next major exhibition, a collaboration with award-winning designer Jenova Chen, will debut in spring 2025 when the Asian Art Museum will be the first museum to present a first-of-its-kind immersive “gaming” exhibition. 

Monetta White, CEO, Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)

The Museum of the African Diaspora will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2025. CEO Monetta White has led the museum’s successful efforts to expand its global reach and digital audience since she took the helm in 2019, creating new opportunities for Black curators and artists. MoAD bridges local and global narratives, fosters a sense of belonging, and celebrates the rich diversity of the African Diaspora.

This year’s exhibitions include “!!!!!”, a solo exhibit showcasing works by acclaimed British visual artist and painter Rachel Jones. On view from March 27 through Sept. 1, Jones’ new body of work continues the artist’s exploration into Black interiority and personhood.

Eun Sun Kim, Caroline H. Hume Music Director, San Francisco Opera

Following the San Francisco Opera’s dynamic centennial celebration, the company returns with another incredible summer season from May through June. Music Director Eun Sun Kim will open the season on May 30, conducting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, featuring an international cast and staging rooted in the aesthetic of silent film that incorporates stunning animated projections which interact with the singers. SF Opera will also present the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s last opera, Innocence, a San Francisco Opera co-commission. In the fall, the free SF Opera in the Park will take place in Golden Gate Park on Sept. 8, with Eun Sun Kim leading the orchestra in an afternoon of arias and ensembles performed by stars from SF Opera.

Jessica Silverman, Founder, Jessica Silverman

Since founding her eponymous international contemporary art gallery in 2008, Jessica Silverman has become one of the country’s leading galleries and a champion of Bay Area artists. She represents artists who make museum-worthy art at all stages of their careers. Silverman’s contemporary art gallery is known for building Bay Area and international artists’ careers and supporting art buyers keen on establishing relevant collections.

In 2021, Silverman moved to a larger gallery space in Chinatown. The gallery’s summer solo opening on July 25 features San Francisco-based artist Chelsea Ryoko Wong. This will be the artist’s first major show at the gallery and will present large-scale figurative paintings inspired by California landscapes and communities, like San Francisco’s Chinatown.

“The Bay Area is home to ambitious and diverse artists, many of whom the gallery represents—a third of our artists live and work here. Local artists are an essential focus for museums in this community, too. ICA SF, San Francisco’s newest institution, recently presented a solo exhibition of Rupy C. Tut, an artist who joined the gallery in 2023. An installation by Sadie Barnette, another gallery artist, is on view at SFMOMA through June. Titled “SPACE/TIME,” it celebrates the legacy of her Oakland-based family. Across the street, Chelsea Ryoko Wong is featured in the “Bay Area Now 9” biennial hosted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA).

Joanne Lee, Executive Director, Edge on the Square

A stone’s throw from Jessica Silverman is Edge on the Square, a new contemporary art hub in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown led by Executive Director Joanne Lee. The art hub hosts art exhibitions, music events and cultural gatherings year-round. Returning this year is Edge on the Square’s third annual Contemporary Art Festival (slated to return on Saturday, Sept. 7). The festival aims to fuel revitalization efforts through the cultural arts. The one-day festival will feature an array of original art experiences, ephemeral installations, family-friendly activities, creative performances, panel conversations, culinary delights, and interactive exhibitions. To date, Edge on the Square has collaborated with more than 50 BIPOC artists and 30 merchant and vendor partners.

“Edge on the Square is Chinatown's contemporary arts hub where you'll find compelling exhibitions, dynamic programs and surprise events by API and BIPOC collaborators. Created by and for the community, our offerings aim to reflect the rich history and culture of our neighborhood, all the while fueling the local economy towards the revitalization of Chinatown,” said Lee.

Jenny Leung, Executive Director, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Grant Street will also become the permanent home of the Chinese Culture Center (CCC) of San Francisco. CCC Executive Director Jenny Leung led the historic purchase of the organization’s future building in Chinatown this February. Leung is known for her commitment to cultural diversity, equity, and arts access, as well as for expanding the organization's programming while focusing on cross-racial solidarity and combating anti-Asian hate.

“CCC was one of the first Asian American arts organizations. It is truly meaningful for CCC at this stage to continue to chart a new course and continue its legacy in shaping a prototype for what Asian American arts can and should be. I feel deeply honored that CCC can create new expanded spaces for the community, in a pivotal and transformational moment for Chinatown as it is recovering from the pandemic, and at the same time having an awakening for artistic and cultural expression,” said Leung.

CCC’s current exhibition, Perilous Playground, is on view at its longtime Visual Art Center and Design Store near Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. The multidisciplinary exhibition guest is curated by C & G Apartment, formerly of Hong Kong, and presents innovative work in film, video, new media, sculpture, and mixed media by local and international artists examining the community's urban changes.

Numerous other women leaders in the arts are keeping San Francisco’s cultural scene ablaze, including:


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