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The Cultural Mafia

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.

Sean Dorsey

Gregg Perloff

Robert Mailer Anderson and Nicola Miner

Michael Tilson Thomas

Jeffrey Fraenkel

Sylvia Lindsey

Deborah Cullinan

BEHIND-THE-SCENE-STERS

Alan Bamberger
FOUNDER OF ARTBUSINESS.COM
Bamberger says it was some combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder and the willingness to take on a major challenge that inspired him, back in 2003, to start cataloging and reviewing almost every art opening in San Francisco. Now, nearly ten years later, visitors to ArtBusiness.com can see what is effectively a decade’s worth of the city’s visual art history.

Susannah Greason Robbins
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM COMMISSION
Everyone making movies should thank their lucky stars for Robbins, who took the helm of the San Francisco Film Commission in 2010. "Susan is rebranding San Francisco as a film location," says Sean House of 32ten Studios. The S.F. Film Collective—the low-rent incubator space she established—now harbors 10 local independent filmmaking groups, while her dogged promotion of the Scene in San Francisco Rebate Program and the Vendor Discount Program helped bring Woody Allen to town to shoot his latest film.

Brad Erickson
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THEATRE BAY AREA
For the past nine years, Erickson has headed Theatre Bay Area, the largest regional theater service organization in the country. Among its many offerings are funding for local theater groups, a bimonthly magazine, a discount ticket service, and open auditions three times a year for wannabe thespians.

Courtney Fink
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SOUTHERN EXPOSURE
Fink’s baby within Southern Exposure is a program called Alternative Exposure, which offers innovative support of the fringier visual arts. Fink gets foundation money that she then "re-grants" to gallery spaces, artist workshops and residency programs, community arts education programs, and so on. The Andy Warhol Foundation, which funded AE, likes it so much that it exported the model to Houston, Chicago, and Kansas City.

Justin Giarla
OWNER OF THE SHOOTING GALLERY
Giarla opened the Shooting Gallery in the Tenderloin in 2003, when the name was a pretty accurate reflection of both the neighborhood and the lowbrow art he showed there. Today, he’s the proprietor of three Tenderloin galleries (and a fourth that will open in February) and the co-curator of Shepard Fairey’s first solo retrospective. He is celebrated for showcasing the best in both international and Bay Area urban art.

Cheryl Haines
PRINCIPAL OF HAINES GALLERY AND FOUNDER OF THE FOR-SITE FOUNDATION
Last Memorial Day weekend, 16 artists from across the country and beyond gathered at Fort Point to produce "International Orange," a project commemorating the 75-year life of the Golden Gate Bridge. The undertaking was masterminded by Haines, whose For-Site Foundation, founded in 2003, is dedicated to fostering place-based art and has brought the city such iconic works as Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire and the 2009 multi-artist installation Presidio Habitats.

Anita Monga and Stacey Wisnia
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL
This duo’s ability to draw enthusiastic crowds has made San Francisco’s silent film festival the largest in the country. This past spring, they gained nationwide attention for premiering the restoration of the 1927 film Napoleon, complete with an orchestral rendition of the film’s original score.

Wayne Hazzard
COFOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DANCERS' GROUP
One reason that the Bay Area is able to support such a thriving dance scene is that Hazzard cofounded Dancers’ Group in 1982. Among the most active dance service organizations in the country, it provides financial sponsorship for around 120 dance groups, free performances around the city, and aid for dancers suffering from lifethreatening illnesses.

Sylvia Lindsey
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA BOARD MEMBER
Once a year, this nutritionist turned arts advocate transforms the War Memorial Opera House into the height of southern comfort, cajoling her fellow board members into preparing and serving a barbecue to 300 to 500 guests. The first African American to join the opera’s board (back in ’87), Lindsey has been tireless in her efforts to bring more diversity to the art form—putting tickets into the hands of those who can’t afford them and championing an education program that currently reaches 16,000 students a year.

Sandra Phillips
SENIOR CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY AT SFMOMA
When the Vatican Library decided to reveal a major collection of photographs never before seen by the outside world, it chose to do it in partnership with SFMOMA—because of Phillips. Her keen curatorial eye has gained SFMOMA a reputation for having the most original photography program in the country, and her exhibitions routinely travel to major museums the world over.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph
DIRECTOR OF PERFORMING ARTS AT YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS
There’s a good reason for the tremendous uptick in quality performance work at YBCA, and his name is Marc Bamuthi Joseph. His unique fusion of spoken word and theater has gained him national recognition (his piece Word Becomes Flesh is currently making an NEA-sponsored tour of North America), and he was vital to the formation of the Living Word Project, the celebrated resident theater company of Youth Speaks.

Dawn Holliday
GENERAL MANAGER AND CO-OWNER OF SLIM'S AND THE GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL
Jack Knowles made a smart move when he tapped Holliday to be the booker at his new Preservation Hall West at the Chapel. She helps line up acts for Slim’s and GAMH and is now in charge of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. A genuine fan, Holliday is in it for the music, not the celebrity-rubbing fame of it all, and musicians and industry folks alike love her for it.

Alan Brown
SENIOR RESEARCHER AT WOLFBROWN
Some culture folks consider Brown the premier arts consultant in the country. Major foundations hire him to help them decide how to allocate their money, as do arts organizations like the San Francisco Ballet, which employed him to research audience engagement.