The Diversity and Innovation Fund

By Alison Bowman and Matt Sussman

November 3, 2021

As this series of blog posts has documented, the last eighteen months have been a time of reflection and positive change at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In the Development department, the institutional goal of becoming an anti-racist institution is surfacing new ideas, inspiring us to rethink previous objectives, and encouraging creative strategizing. The solution to how to best support the work being done by our colleagues came into sharper focus last year, after FAMSF received a major grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation to not only support a two-year curatorial fellowship program for four emerging art history scholars, but also a new object database and website, making our collections even more accessible. Expanding opportunities for aspiring museum professionals of all backgrounds in a meaningful way has been an ongoing goal of the Museums, and this grant has provided us with the means to do so in a sustained, ambitious manner that had previously not been possible. 

The Diversity and Innovation Fund

Galvanized by this transformational gift, the Development team recognized the need for FAMSF to have its own committed fund to support the slate of new and already existing initiatives arising from our efforts to become an anti-racist institution. To that end, we launched the Diversity and Innovation Fund in 2021 with an ambitious financial goal that will be critically important to jumpstart new initiatives and to continue this work beyond this initial investment.

In this post, we highlight some of the initiatives identified as funding priorities by the Development team.

Programs and Initiatives

The Diversity and Innovation Fund is intended to kickstart or bolster support for programs and initiatives that aim to help the Museums become more accessible, diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

people mingling in a gallery

Photography by Gary Sexton.

Interpretation and Outreach Associates. Sometimes this means revising a program from the ground up. This has been the case with Interpretation and Outreach Associates, one of our paid internship programs. In 2020, as a result of both FAMSF's closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing reckoning with systemic racism, participants in this iteration of the program – previously called Community Representatives – worked collaboratively with staff to reimagine it as a professional development platform from which emerging BIPOC art professionals can advocate for the Fine Arts Museums to become spaces that are truly by and for the communities they serve. Now called Interpretation and Outreach Associates, this new iteration of the program lets participants work with community members inside and outside of the galleries, as they did in the past, while also ensuring that they play a substantive role in shaping how the Museums engage with the many communities they serve.

Equity School Partnership Project. A new initiative launched last year, which the Fund supports, is the Equity School Partnership Project. Collaboratively conceived with public-school leaders to better address the evolving needs of predominantly BIPOC students and teachers, the Equity School Partnership Project represents a paradigm shift for the Museums’ kindergarten through fifth grade Education programs. This initiative grew out of a needs assessment of FAMSF’s K-5 programs to identify how the museums can better serve local public schools, with a focus on historically underserved populations. This evaluation showed that a deeper investment is necessary to make a substantial impact in public schools. Going forward FAMSF will, for the first time, send teaching artists and museum staff into classrooms to work hand-in-hand with teachers and their students to develop programming that is student-centric and focused on social-emotional and culturally relevant learning.

young children entering the de Young museum

Photography by Gary Sexton.

Gallery Reinstallation. A new fund-supported curatorial endeavour is the reinstallation and reenvisioning of the African Art galleries. Natasha Becker, the inaugural curator of African art at FAMSF, is leading the redesign of the African art galleries to make them more visible and inviting, creating an environment that plunges visitors into an in-depth exploration of artworks and themes in African art. The refreshed permanent gallery will offer a design that includes a new color scheme, more focused lighting, updated wall texts, and rearranged collection objects. Previously unseen objects such as our rich collection of African textiles and costumes will be part of the new display on a rotating basis. In the adjoining gallery, our newly created temporary exhibition space will become the site of a series of special installations and exhibitions that are inspired by our historical collection while also introducing contemporary perspectives from Africa and the African diaspora.

two people looking at an artwork

Photograph by Henrik Kam. © Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Director of Interpretation. The Museums are also creating a new position, a Director of Interpretation, with the goal of improving the visitor experience by igniting connections between twenty-first-century audiences and works of art that span 4000 years of creativity. In partnership with staff across the institution and colleagues in the field, the Director will develop plans to advance FAMSF’s mission to integrate equality in everything we do, including mapping more inclusive interpretive frameworks, co-creating content, designing new visitor and community engagement opportunities, and evaluating metrics of interpretation success.

Through ramped up fundraising for the Diversity and Innovation Fund, we will have the capability to realize Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Access (DIEA) efforts across the Museums. In addition, the Development team has helped facilitate connections between previously siloed projects, allowing us to talk about the anti-racist work underway at the Museums more holistically. We are grateful to the board members and donors who have already shown their support of FAMSF’s DIEA work with contributions both large and small. 

We know, too, that these efforts are just the beginning. Just as there is still more to raise to meet the remainder of the Fund’s short-term goal, the work to realize many of the initiatives we’ve detailed above will be ongoing, fueled by visible and exciting changes throughout the Museums along the way.

To find out more about the Diversity and Innovation Fund, please contact the Development Department at or 415.750.3639.

Text by Alison Bowman, director of Legacy Giving; and Matt Sussman, senior grants manager.

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