Wednesday, June 19, 2013

State of the Arts in San Francisco (1986)

Twenty seven years ago a State of the Arts in San Francisco was published as a "special series" by the San Francisco Chronicle.  In the introduction, Rosalie Muller Wright, the editor of the collection, wrote that she and her colleagues sought to better understand the major artistic institutions of the City.  They posed the questions like "How did they get started? Who makes the artistic decisions? How do they raise funds? How do they stack up artistically against similar groups in other cities?"  The final questions seemed to have been pressing to them, as they and these organizations yearned to assert San Francisco's status as a significant cultural center.

Various critics and columnists for the paper at that time, such as Jerry Carroll, Blake Green, Jesse Hamlin, Michael Harris, Pat Steger, Sylvia Rubin, and Ruthe Stein, contributed to this survey.  There were also concluding essays by the Chronicle's renowned architecture critic Allen Temko and beloved columnist Herb Caen.

State of the Arts in San Francisco devoted its attention exclusively to eight organizations - the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Art Institute, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Opera, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the American Conservatory Theatre.

Throughout this book there are tables showing the expenses and income of many of the organizations, sometimes comparing them to similar institutions around the country.  Another chart lists the major donors to the San Francisco Opera.  The society columnist Pat Steger provides some of the most interesting information in articles entitled "The People Who Control the Money," "Breeding Grounds for Trustees" and "Getting onto the 'Big' Boards" that all concern the super rich who give to the arts and about the make up the boards of these organizations.

At the book's end Herb Caen wrote an article entitled "The Non-Stop S.F. Culture" that is a typical feel-good cheerleading piece. Allan Temko wrote a more sober article entitled "A Raggedly Uneven Cultural Scene" where he surveys the arts in the city and still finds them wanting in many respects.

State of the Arts in San Francisco includes many photographs, some of which document the City's museums before they were renovated or replaced.  In short, this book provides a look at the some major artistic institutions that have endured and continue to endure.  It traces their development and gives a clear sense of their achievements and challenges up to that time. 

State of the Arts in San Francisco, Rosalie Muller Wright, editor; Dennis Gallagher, design (Chronicle Publishing Co., 1986).

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