Exclusive: Anonymous donor to make 21 Santa Francisco museums admission-free

Schloak, 22 months, and parents Pankit and Ameek Doshi visit the Diego Rivera paintings at SFMOMA. The museum is among 21 institutions that will offer free admission during the two-day event. Photo: Paul Kuroda / special to The Chronicle

The Asian Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have announced the creation of the San Francisco Free Museum Weekend, which will feature 21 organizations over the weekend of December 3rd and 4th.

The two-day event is funded by an anonymous donor so that no participating institution suffers financial loss.

“San Francisco’s Free Museums Weekend couldn’t come at a better time,” said Jay Sue, director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “As we re-emerge from the challenges of recent months, Bay Area museums are here to help our communities reconnect with each other and the artists who inspire them.”

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The Asian Art Museum will close on December 4 as part of San Francisco’s Free Museums Weekend. Photo: Felix Uribe / Special to The Chronicle

On Dec. 3, institutions that will waive admission include the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor; Museum of Animation Art; Museum of Crafts and Design; the Walt Disney Family Museum; California Academy of Sciences; GLBT Historical Society Museum; Museum of American Bookbinders: Archives of Letters; SF camera; McEvoy Foundation for the Arts: Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye; San Francisco Institute of Contemporary Art and the Minnesota Street Project.

The following day, downtown museums with free admission include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Contemporary Jewish Museum; Museum of the African Diaspora; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Museum of Children’s Creativity; Asian Art Museum; and Exploratorium. Special exhibitions that will also be free to museum visitors include retrospectives of artists Diego Rivera and Joan Brown at SFMOMA and celebrations of artist Bernice Bing and animator Kongki at the Asian Art Museum.

Participants must reserve tickets at www.sffreemuseumweekend.com.

The DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park is among the institutions that will offer free admission with a reserved ticket. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

“In these economically challenging and politically divisive times, museums provide a critical place for discourse, reflection and inspiration,” Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Museums of Fine Arts San Francisco, said in a statement. “Increasing access to art spaces and removing barriers to experiencing art is critical.”

SFMOMA Director Christopher Bedford called the initiative “a great testament to the vibrant, resilient and boundary-pushing arts community here” and told The Chronicle that the museum is “grateful to join our peers in this shared celebration of art, culture and the creativity that long ago put San Francisco on the map.”

The free weekend comes as San Francisco’s visual arts scene makes several additions to its cultural cache, including the opening of the new Dogpatch Institute of Contemporary Art in October, the premiere of several major fall shows, and the project’s upcoming public unveiling art Central Subway.

It also comes as the city continues to grapple with global criticism over how it’s handling the challenges of addiction, homeless streets and an overall slowdown in downtown pedestrian traffic. In August, a New York Times article about San Francisco’s art community said these problems had led to the decline of the city’s museums and galleries.

Organizers of the San Francisco Free Museums Weekend acknowledged that “San Francisco is among the last American cities to show signs of recovery after being closed at the height of the pandemic,” but added that they hoped the event would mark “the awakening and revitalization of a city that which has long championed creativity, experimentation and innovation.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect museums also offering free admission to special exhibitions.

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