Grand Jury Inspires San Francisco to Hunt Down Its Unaccounted for Art

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

One of the great secrets about arts-rich San Francisco is that in addition to its fine museums and programs for the arts it has one of the finest city-owned art collections in the country, worth an estimated $90 million.

According to a recently-released San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report called “Where There’s Smoke . . .”, the reason many people aren’t aware of this art cache is because the city’s Arts Commission that manages it is a mess. The report says the commission has mismanaged its Street Artists Program, did not fulfill its obligations to Neighborhood Cultural Centers, neglected general administration and lost track of its art.

In response to the grand jury report, the city is curtailing donations and other transactions until it knows what it already has.

Because the 4,000-piece art collection has never been fully inventoried, the grand jury recommended that $1 million be allocated to making sure its Edvard Much lithographs,  collection of woolen bow ties and the rest of its esoteric collection are all accounted for and properly exhibited.

The grand jury report cited as inspiration for its investigation a story by The Bay Citizen that catalogued a litany of commission sins, including losing track of 141 pieces of art out of 496 it acquired for a 1972 renovation of San Francisco General Hospital. And 19 of its 58 modernist jewelry pieces were missing.

But the jury didn’t have to rely on news reports as grounds for an investigation. Six audits by the San Francisco Controller’s office between 2010 and 2012 found various things to complain about and the Sunshine Task Force found “willful” violation of public record access laws. 

The grand jury recommended a fundamental restructuring of the Arts Commission board of directors, whose narrow focus on the arts needed an infusion of operations and finance expertise. Instead of 11 of the 15 members being active arts professionals, the jury said the city charter should be changed to include eight at-large commissioners with expertise in business and fundraising.

The commission has always had a reputation for inconsistent stewardship of its collection. In the 1990s, the gardeners in Golden Gate Park cut up and used stones for landscaping that had come from a dismantled 12th century monastery in Spain. The original plan was to rebuild the monastery as a museum.    

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

San Francisco to Hire Sleuth to Track Down Missing City Art (by Matt Smith, The Bay Citizen)

Where There’s Smoke . . . (City and County of San Francisco Civil Grand Jury) (pdf)

Slipshod Management Leaves $90 Million City Art Collection in Disarray (by Andy Wright and Reyhan Harmanci, The Bay Citizen)

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