The "New" SFMOMA: Meaning More to More People

By Mary Ittelson, Amir Goldberg, Sheila Melvin
2017 | Case No. SM258 | Length 25 pgs.

In the spring of 2016, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, opened its doors for a series of celebrations following a three-year closure.  The museum had much to rejoice: a $305 million renovation that included a spectacular new ten-story addition that almost tripled gallery space; the 100-year loan of the renowned 1,100-work Doris and Donald Fisher Collection of postwar and contemporary art; the success of the “Campaign for Art,” which saw generous donors gift or promise approximately 3,000 artworks; and the opening of the new Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest gallery and research space for photography in the United States.

Reviews that rolled out in the wake of the celebrations proved largely laudatory. The Boston Globe, for instance, said SFMOMA was not only bigger, it was “also better—to such a degree, and in so many interesting, potentially game-changing ways, that for the next six months museum directors everywhere are going to be driven crazy fielding the same question: ‘Have you seen what they’ve done in San Francisco?’” But once SFMOMA re-opened to the public on May 14, Director Neal Benezra and his colleagues had to get down to the business of running what was in many regards a brand-new museum.  Most crucially, perhaps, they had to determine how to best continue fulfilling Benezra’s oft-repeated pledge: to make SFMOMA mean more to more people.

This case, based on interviews with Benezra, his colleagues, and SFMOMA Board President Robert J. Fisher and Board Chairman Charles R. Schwab, explores SFMOMA’s effort to fulfill Benezra’s pledge.  It includes historical background and considers SFMOMA’s place among modern art museums in a changing world; the impact of such world-renowned institutions as Bilbao and Tate; how SFMOMA took the decision to build a new building; issues that arose during and after the closure, and how these were addressed; the new operating environment SFMOMA faced in 2016; and the museum’s plans for moving forward. 

Learning Objective

The learning objective is to foster strategic thinking in addressing the challenges that are unique to museums in the modern and contemporary art space. Students will be required evaluate how the SFMOMA, having recently completed a major renovation and expansion, can reposition itself as a global leader in the art world. The case touches on the strategic, managerial, organizational and financial challenges stemming from the desire to be at the forefront of artistic vision and innovation while simultaneously appealing to a broad and diverse audience.
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