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Museums and their Medicis

Joanne Furio | February 6, 2012 | Lifestyle Story Galleries and Performance City Life Architecture Culture

Strange but true: At the same time that many smaller, cash-strapped museums have been forced to close, major arts institutions seem to be in the middle of a building boomlet. Apparently, the “1 percent” really cares about art, since a good chunk of the construction money is coming from private donations. In a mere seven months, SFMOMA has raised a mind-boggling $437 million from individual donors (91 percent of its initial $480 million estimate for the work), making it the envy of museum fundraisers everywhere.
Here’s a rundown of the SFMOMA construction and five other Bay Area projects featuring high-profile local and international architects, big price tags, and exciting, art- and viewer-friendly spaces.

1. Mashouf Performing Arts Center at SFSU

Architect: Los Angeles’s Michael Maltzan, known for bold architectural statements, like the Billy Wilder Theater at the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Harvard-Westlake Feldman-Horn Center for the Arts, had to win a design competition to snag this commission.

ETA: 2022 (the first of three phases)

The plan: Anchoring the southwestern edge of the campus, the 242,150-square-foot, state-of-the-art complex will include four theaters (ranging from 60 to 1,200 seats), a music hall, and broadcast facilities. The dramatic architecture, a horizontal wave design punctuated by performance spaces rising above, will incorporate green design principles.

Price tag: $268 million (for all three phases)

Where the $ comes from: A public-private arrangement, with 80 percent coming from the state. The biggest private donors: alum Manny Mashouf, founder of Bebe women’s boutiques, and his former wife, Neda Nobari, who have kicked in $10 million—hence the center’s name.

2. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Architects: New York–based Diller Scofidio + Renfro, famous for “repurposing” existing structures, like New York’s Lincoln Center, as well as for new buildings like Los Angeles’s Broad Museum. (San Francisco’s EHDD is also assisting on the project.) The architects recently snagged another arts related project here as well: the McMurtry Building at Stanford University.

ETA: 2015

The plan: An existing art deco printing plant will be renovated and attached to a new 30,000-square-foot building, which will consolidate all museum activities and incorporate the PFA theater, currently in a nearby annex. A highlight of the design is a dramatic trapezoidal form above the walkways to the PFA, which will cantilever over the Center Street walkway.

Price tag: $100 million

Where the $ comes from: The entire $80 million that’s been raised so far is from private sources, among them Cal alumni and friends, museum trustees, and well-heeled artsy types. Fourteen million of it came from David Woo, a Hong Kong businessman and Berkeley alum—and an anonymous donor kicked in $5 million.


Architects: Snøhetta of Norway and New York and EHDD of San Francisco. Snøhetta is renowned for its engaging work, including the Oslo Opera House, that weaves architecture into the social fabric. One of EHDD’s most iconic works, Sea Ranch, reflects the firm’s expertise in architecture that’s sensitive to place. But the firm also has a strong institutional portfolio, most notably exemplified by the upcoming Exploratorium at Pier 15.

ETA: 2016

The plan: Designed to attract the “99 percent,” the new building will have thousands of square feet—plus another 10,000 devoted to outdoor spaces on the ground floor, some of which will be open to the public free of charge. The entrance will move to the core of the complex, with access from every direction, so visitors no longer have to line up on Third Street. The exterior’s rippled, glittering surface will change with the movement of the sun.

Price tag: $555 million

Where the $ comes from: All from private sources, individuals as well as corporate. (The museum won’t yet release any names.)

4. Emeryville Center for the Arts

Architects: San Francisco’s Jensen Architects, whose sculpture garden for SFMOMA garnered kudos for letting the artwork shine and for melding seamlessly with the existing building.

ETA: 2014

The plan: The conversion of an existing brick warehouse into a cool community center will add civic gravitas to this city of big box stores and few landmarks beyond City Hall and Pixar. The new design maintains the city’s characteristic warehouse look but aspires to a modern openness. A rollup garage door will link the sidewalk with the lobby, which will flow into a courtyard housing the entrances to a gallery and a theater.

Price tag: $12 to $15 million

Where the $ comes from: Emeryville’s Redevelopment Agency has pledged to kick in $7 million. So far, the center has raised $5 million on its own, including $2 million from neighboring Pixar and $25,000 from PG&E. Since Emeryville is not known for its deeppocketed residents, donors from nearby East Bay locales will also be hit up.

5. Palo Alto Art Center

Architects: San Francisco’s Mark Cavagnero Associates, whose portfolio includes the highly acclaimed renovation of the Oakland Museum of California, SFJazz’s new home, the renovation of San Francisco’s ODC Theater, and the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.

ETA: September 2012

The plan: More than just a small arts facility owned by the city, the center garnered major museum cred after introducing traveling shows in the ’90s, one of which landed at the Smithsonian. A makeover of the interiors (including new children’s classrooms and expanded galleries) and a new garden by SWA landscape architects will be more in line with the center’s newfound status.

Price tag: $7.9 million

Where the $ comes from: A public-private partnership, in which the city is picking up about 70 percent. The rest is coming from corporations and nonprofits funded by Silicon Valley stalwarts (like the Hewlett and Packard foundations), as well as individuals like dot-com businesswoman turned philanthropist Judy Koch, entrepreneurengineer Yogen Dalal— and even center staff and volunteers.

6. Anderson Collection at Stanford University

Architect: Richard Olcott of Ennead Architects, a New York design firm behind many large-scale, high-profile projects, including New York’s Standard Hotel and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.

ETA: 2014

The plan: The specifics haven’t been revealed yet, but the building will house one of the largest and best collections of post–World War II American art, donated by San Francisco megapatrons Harry W. Anderson; his wife, Mary Margaret Anderson; and their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence. Anderson made his fortune with Saga Corporation and started collecting with his wife in the ’60s. Their other gifts include their pop-art collection, donated to SFMOMA, and 655 graphics, given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Price tag: $30.5 million

Where the $ comes from: Entirely from the university.


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