Explore San Francisco

From Renovations to New Openings, San Francisco’s Art Scene Is Heating Up

All that's new and exciting in the San Francisco art world

Major museums and Union Square galleries are only two of many exciting ways to experience art in San Francisco. In the past year, several major new spaces have completed renovations or opened for the first time, offering ever more opportunities to explore the Bay Area’s rich history through the arts in both visual multimedia exhibits and music. From ambitious city galleries to rehabbed barracks on the bluffs in Marin, there are new San Francisco spaces and centers to suit just about any art-lover’s tastes.

The promenade at the Commons, a new outdoor space for art at the Headlands Center for the Arts.
The promenade at the Commons, a new outdoor space for art at the Headlands Center for the Arts (©CMG Landscape Architecture)

Head to the Headlands

Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since its founding in 1982, the Headlands Center for the Arts has been an inspiring destination in the windswept coastal wilderness across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco for 35 years.

In August, the new artist-led renovation project was unveiled at the historic nine-building campus, which supports multidisciplinary arts programming and offers a popular in-residence program to artists of all stripes, from writers to photographers. A dozen alumni from the program have received MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships, and many more have accepted some of the highest honors in their various disciplines. Check the calendar for artist talks, panel discussions and hands-on opportunities to make art with some of the area’s masters.

Alicia McCarthy's mural in progress
Alicia McCarthy's mural in progress (©Stephanie Smith)

For Students and For All

Fort Mason continues to evolve as an arts destination with the opening of the new $50 million San Francisco Art Institute—SFAI—campus.

Housed on a 67,000-square-foot renovated pier, the massive studio and exhibition space juts into the San Francisco Bay, offering panoramic views of the water from what was once a World War II Pacific theater embarkation point. With this exciting expansion, SFAI has created 160 art studios for students, and for the public, several new free exhibition spaces.

One eye-catching attraction: the Mural Wall, which will feature rotating artist commissions. The inaugural mural by alumna and SFAI faculty member Alicia McCarthy will be displayed through 2019.

With an emphasis on free, dynamic programming in recent years, the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture has drawn art aficionados to the north side of the city with its major artist retrospectives and small galleries dotted all over the 13-acre former U.S. Army post. One exciting new exhibition, "Sanctuary," opens Oct. 7 and presents prayer rugs made by 36 artists from more than 20 countries, all riffing on the physical and psychological notions of sanctuary—and located, appropriately, in the Fort Mason Chapel.

When heading to Fort Mason, make sure to check the schedules at the exciting arts venues in the area, including the Magic Theatre playhouse, a Bay Area institution celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And every Friday night through Oct. 20, check out the nation’s largest food truck extravaganza at Off the Grid, where piping hot fusion cuisine and cold brews on tap pair perfectly with the city’s late summer fog and free music performances offered most Friday evenings.

"Sutters Mill," Rick Griffin's early, colorful, take on Wild West sensibility
"Sutters Mill," Rick Griffin's early, colorful, take on Wild West sensibility (Courtesy Haight Street Art Center)

The Poster Child for a New Art Center

At the new two-story, 12,000-square-foot Haight Street Art Center, poster art production, history and education are the full-color focus. A giant bronze rabbit marks the entrance to this Lower Haight neighborhood gallery, which functions as a sort of living history center, complete with scanners and printers in a print shop that can be accessed by anyone, famous artist or curious visitor off the street.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the center’s inaugural exhibition, "The Art of Consciousness," features nearly 100 psychedelic posters from the late 1960s creativity explosion that rocked San Francisco. The permanent collection continues to offer plenty of eye candy. Before visiting, be sure to check out the center’s class calendar which offers opportunities for visitors to test their own far out silk screen-printing techniques.

Minnesota Street Project
(Courtesy Minnesota Street Project)

Destination: Dogpatch

Since opening its doors last year, the range of galleries in the three warehouses that comprise the Minnesota Street Project have attracted excited guests and drawn rave reviews. With the recent announcement that Chronicle Books executive and SFMOMA trustee Nion McEvoy will display his personal collection of photographs and other artworks in one of the galleries, there is ever more reason to make a detour to the Dogpatch.

 Minnesota Street Project artist Windy Chien at her show "The Year Of Knots"
Minnesota Street Project artist Windy Chien (©Molly DeCoudreaux)

On view through Oct. 28, the group exhibition "Soil Erosion" offers visitors an array of works by more than 20 contemporary artists exploring themes of erosion in land, liberty, culture and loss of desire. With the recent opening of famed Bay Area chef Daniel Patterson’s latest Alta location in the Minnesota Street Project, the spacious galleries and adjacent local businesses have become a destination for a night out or a leisurely weekend afternoon adventure.

John Wilson White Installation at Contemporary Jewish Museum
"Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist As Maggid" (©John Wilson White/Contemporary Jewish Museum)

Excellent Exhibitions

The Walt Disney Family Museum: "Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle" is this gorgeous Presidio museum’s 18th original exhibition, highlighting the artist who worked on "Sleeping Beauty," "Lady and the Tramp" and "Peter Pan." Through Jan. 8, 2018.

SFMOMA: The only U.S. presentation of a major retrospective of the work of photographer Walker Evans traces his signature documentary style over five decades, including more than 300 prints, many from the artist’s personal archive. Sept. 30-Feb. 4, 2018.

Contemporary Jewish Museum: "Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist As Maggid" collects the work of 16 contemporary artists who act as modern-day maggids—wise storytellers—to reimagine tales from Jewish folklore. Sept. 28-Jan. 28, 2018.

Asian Art Museum: The nation’s first exhibition presenting Philippine art from the pre-colonial period to the present, "Philippine Art: Collecting Art, Collecting Memories" also commemorates this museum’s recent acquisition of 25 compelling works for its permanent collection. Through March 11, 2018.

SFO Museum: Depending on your departure gate, check out the latest exhibits from the world-class SFO Museum. Current displays showcase the history of United Airlines, shoes of world cultures and the evolution of the typewriter.