SFMoMA Cuts Several Programs, Including Film and Open Space

By Johanna Ochoa


Invoking a feeling of discontent and disappointment among artists and the arts community, SFMoMA has decided to cut several programs, including film, which will leave local artists without support and seven members of its staff without a job.

Citing financial hardship, the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art is disbanding many well-known programs including its Film Program, Open Space program, their podcast Raw Material, and the Artists Gallery at Fort Mason. 

A disposable mask blows by the SFMoMA. Photo by Onyx Hunter/The Guardsman

Prior to the announcement of the planned cuts, SFMoMA had  been considered a pioneer in the presentation of film. Since 1937, the Film Program has screened countless numbers of classic and contemporary films, establishing San Francisco as a major center for experimental filmmaking.

For Brett Kashmere, Executive Director of Canyon Cinema Foundation, SFMoMA is moving in the wrong direction.

“The Film Program, Open Space, and Artists Gallery are among the museum’s most vital, inclusive, forward-thinking, culturally relevant, and community-focused programs. Hopefully, the decision-makers at SFMoMA will come to their senses and reverse their decision to cancel these tremendous programs while there is still time,” expressed Kashmere. 

With the Bay Area film industry already in decline over the last several years, dissolving SFMOMA’s film program constitutes a terrible loss to local artists. 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Onyx Hunter/The Guardsman.

“By disbanding this program MOMA is saying ‘film isn’t important to the arts.’ Honestly, the Bay Area shouldn’t stand for it and the public demonstration a few weeks ago underscores that. Arts and Culture are important here and Film is Art,” said Denah Johnston, Cinema Studies Professor and Department Chair at City College of San Francisco.

Open Space, an online and live interdisciplinary publishing platform for artists and writers, and the podcast Raw Material will end after the fall season as well. The podcast will be preserved as an “audio zine” for use online and at the museum.

Steve Polta, Director of San Francisco Cinematheque, noted that Open Space, “ was an amazing platform for the propagation and the generation of new ideas and opinions about art and involves lots of people. It brought lots of local writers into the community, and it supported writers, poets and people engaged with critical theory, etc. Not a lot of museums offer platforms for that kind of engagement, outside of the visual arts.”

The nonprofit Artists Gallery at Fort Mason Center has been open since 1946 as a space for local artists to show their artwork. Unfortunately it will close at the end of the year along with the other programs.

“Artists Gallery has supported hundreds of living Bay Area artists through facilitating sales and rentals of their work. The Bay Area is already such an expensive place to live, the cost of living and the precarity around dependable housing and affordable spaces makes this an incredibly difficult place for artists to survive to begin with. When a rich institution like SFMoMA decides to withdraw material resources support, through the elimination of programs, jobs, and paid opportunities, the consequences are significant,” assures Kashmere.

On top of all, seven employees will lose their staff positions, which leaves them with more difficulties in between this situation.

“We’re faced with a situation where people are losing their jobs. That is the first and most devastating impact. When an institution like SFMOMA eliminates several programs, that has a tremendous ripple down effect. Most immediately it means there are now going to be fewer jobs and opportunities for people to work as film programmers, projectionists, theater managers, editors, and so on,” said Kashmere.

Gina Basso, Manager of SFMoMA’S Film program has been working for about 15 years at the museum, unfortunately, she is one of the employees who will lose her job due to the cuts.

Illustration by Erin Blackwell/The Guardsman. Instagram: @blackwelldrawingfool

“Basso has been brilliantly reworking the programming direction over the past several years to great effect highlighting work largely outside the canon and shining a light on local experimental work (Crossroads festival in partnership with San Francisco Cinematheque), women, filmmakers of color, and a lot of international work that gets little, if any, mainstream attention,” said Johnston.

Artists, art lovers, and employees have come together to oppose this erasure of art and cultural workers in San Francisco, organizing protests that have taken place outside the museum.

The San Francisco-based Canyon Cinema Foundation has voiced its thoughts on the situation, through a letter on its website stating “It is disappointing and disheartening to learn that a museum that claims to be a center for the most innovative and challenging art of its time, now holds the medium of film and the projected moving image in such low regard.”  

As well, the nonprofit in their letter stated that if the museum moves forward with these announced changes, they should remove the words “Modern Art” from the name of the museum, because the film (quintessential modern art form) would no longer be part of it, so continuing to use the term “modern” to characterize the museum is unethical and deceptive branding.

Concerned residents can support the film community by signing the petition on to oppose the cuts. The petition already has around 3500 signatures, they are hoping to get more than 5,000.

The Guardsman