The de Young at 125

By Thomas P. Campbell

April 15, 2020

Aerial view of the de Young

This past month, as global and local responses to the coronavirus pandemic fundamentally altered our day-to-day routines, the de Young quietly turned 125 years old. Set against the backdrop of a crisis the likes of which most of us have never experienced before, the de Young’s recent birthday on March 23 was a necessarily subdued affair. On that date, as I worked with my staff at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to address pressing operational matters, I was keenly aware that as we passed this anniversary without much fanfare or merriment, we were also living history.

Though we have been unable to commemorate the de Young as we would have liked to, our institutional history has been the subject of much study this past year. More recently, it has been a great source of inspiration to me in these strange times.

This coming August, the publication of a new catalogue of selected works from the de Young’s permanent collection will illuminate new research on the museum’s past with a timeline compiled by archivist Araceli Bremauntz-Enriquez and her colleague Abigail Dansiger, head of library and archives at the Fine Arts Museums. As I have reviewed the catalogue manuscript in recent days, reading about the de Young’s resilience in the face of difficult circumstances—the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, WWI, the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, WWII, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—has been a steadying reminder of our ability to endure and grow under great duress.

In the present historical moment, our announcement of The de Young Open has filled me with hope and pride. When we are able to reopen, this open-submission exhibition will provide Bay Area artists an opportunity to exhibit and sell their work. For our community, it will be an important moment to come together, perhaps at a distance, and celebrate the breadth and depth of art created in the Bay Area. Please stay tuned for additional details.

At this time, I am also uplifted on a daily basis by our staff’s passion and dedication—not least by essential employees who continue to work on-site to protect the buildings and art, and by those who have made it possible for the Fine Arts Museums to continue to engage with our audiences online. At a time when so many daily activities have shifted into virtual spaces, I have marveled at the creativity of our staff as they have amplified our digital presence to better connect with audiences who need the solace of art and inspiration now more than ever.

Aerial view of the de Young

The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Michael Layefsky

Though we look forward to the day when we can safely reopen the de Young and Legion of Honor, I am delighted to know that the digital offerings available on our Curiosity Resources and Museum from Home pages effectively allow the Museums to continue fostering creativity, connectedness, and learning. New to the de Young’s Museum from Home page is a link to an abbreviated version of the de Young timeline that will be published in August as part of the forthcoming catalogue of selected works. With the opportunity to explore the de Young’s past in a new Google Arts and Culture exhibit, I hope that you are reminded that the Fine Arts Museums remain open to you online, even with our doors closed.

I hope to see you at the de Young and Legion of Honor when we reopen, but in the meantime, thank you for your support, please enjoy our #museumfromhome, and be well.

Thomas P. Campbell
Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Watch a discussion with Thomas Campbell on the history of the Fine Arts Museums (including the 125th anniversary of the de Young), the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our institution and the broader arts community, and our goals for the future as we aim to deepen our connection to the San Francisco community.

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