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The Cultural Mafia
Gretchen Schrafft | Photo: Riccardo Vecchio | December 4, 2012
With maybe one exception (OK, New York, you win), no city offers quite the mix of world-class, cutting-edge, and passionately gonzo culture that San Francisco does. We have superstars, inventors of new art forms, indie theater champs, and, naturally, the country’s first transgender dance company. But who, exactly, are the leaders of this tight-knit, crazy-quilt scene? We canvassed dozens of film capos, theater consiglieri, and foot soldiers of literature, dance, art, and music to come up with this list of the 63 most influential impresarios, mentors, fundraisers, and visionaries.
GENERAL DIRECTOR OF THE SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
Gockley has done much to guard the San Francisco Opera’s place as one of the top three companies in the country. He’s a particularly avid champion of new works, including the wildly successful Moby-Dick by local composer Jake Heggie. Under his guidance, the company was the first to have its own in-house media suite, making it possible to screen performances in cinemas across the country, on PBS, and, of course, at AT&T Park.
DIRECTOR OF SFMOMA
At one point, the city was on the verge of losing the Fisher Collection—the treasure trove of contemporary art that Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher spent more than 40 years collecting. But then Benezra stepped in. SFMOMA’s $555 million expansion project will not only double the museum’s square footage, but will also make it one of the most significant contemporary art museums in the U.S. after New York City’s MoMA.
FOUNDER AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF LINES BALLET
Despite having recently received a San Francisco Living Treasure Award from the S.F. Museum and Historical Society, King isn’t exactly a household name—at least among non–dance people. But he should be. He’s been dancing and choreographing his unique form of modern ballet here for 30 years and exporting his wondrous art to dancers and companies around the world. (Europe loves him.)
DIRECTOR OF THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM
The first Chinese-American director of any major U.S. museum, Xu has deep ties to China that enable the Asian Art Museum to display works that otherwise might not make it to the Bay Area. "China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy," an extraordinary collection of artifacts more than 2,000 years old, is coming to the Asian this February because of him.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER
A.C.T. was seriously floundering after the Loma Prieta earthquake—but then Perloff (no relation to Gregg) took over and never looked back. She has revived the conservatory’s MFA program, achieved record subscriber numbers, and directed everything from innovative spins on the classics to American premieres of works by Stoppard and Pinter.
Michael Tilson Thomas
MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
Since rolling into town in 1995 with his ebullient personality, dashing looks, and leather jacket, MTT has transformed a very good orchestra into a great one. He champions the work of contemporary American composers; he made San Francisco fall in love with Gustav Mahler; and when he conducted the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in 2011 for a virtual audience of 33 million, he created the most-streamed live event ever.
Helgi Tomasson and Glenn McCoy
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SAN FRANCISCO BALLET
In his 27 years with the company, Tomasson has elevated the San Francisco Ballet to the international stage. And as executive director since 2002, McCoy has helped keep it there—and has brought it into people’s homes. Thanks to him, the American premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid and Tomasson’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Nutcracker both aired on PBS.
Carole Shorenstein Hays
PRESIDENT OF SHN
She’s one-half of the partnership (Shorenstein Hays Nederlander) that brings Broadway to San Francisco at the Curran, Orpheum, and Golden Gate theaters. And she’s the force behind the huge hit that went to Broadway from San Francisco (and is now on its way back): Wicked.