Projects / Guest Curator

Deborah Cullinan

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

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Greetings, my name is Deborah Cullinan and I am Chief Executive Officer of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Please join me over the next several weeks as I curate a conversation about the role of arts and culture institutions in civic life.

About YBCA

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) was founded in 1993 as part of a project of the California Redevelopment Agency. Out of urban renewal and decades of struggle due to politics, displacement, and changing demographics, Yerba Buena Gardens opened in a transitioning San Francisco neighborhood known as South of Market and included a park, a children’s playground, ice rink, bowling alley, restaurants, hotels, a neighboring convention center, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

YBCA was created to anchor this complex and evolving place as a citizen institution that would be home to the diverse local arts community while serving to connect the Bay Area to the world. This founding mandate to be connected to and part of our immediate geography is an essential reminder that place is made through synergy and connection across difference. Place is its history, its aspirations, and its people. Place is made by its culture.


Our City is Changing

Today, like so many cities in the world, our city is experiencing incredible change. We are home to extraordinary wealth, incredible natural beauty, and unprecedented technological transformation. We are one of the most expensive cities to live in on the planet and, at the same time, a hotbed of progressive politics and game-changing innovation, often paving the way forward for the rest of our country.

Our population is increasing, and cultural, ethnic, and income diversity is rapidly declining. Our streets are contested places and, in the midst of an acute housing and affordability crisis, homelessness is a reality for more and more people. Headlines and newscasts evoke an environment of upheaval and uncertainty, which cultivates division, polarities, and blame, leaving many feeling either helpless or hopeless. Without a sense of hope or possibility, we are stuck and our great city struggles to be itself.

Survey of Bay Area Citizens

Yet at YBCA we know that art and creativity are essential drivers of any breakthrough change. We recently surveyed close to 1,500 Bay Area citizens and found that they know it, too:

  • 81% believe that art and culture are vital parts of the human experience in everyday life — not just something you experience when you go to a museum or a cultural institution.
  • 83% believe that creativity is important to imagining the future.
  • 72% believe that art and culture play an important role in cultivating empathy and understanding among people who are different from one another.
  • 79% believe that it will take all kinds of creative thinkers to shape the future of our city.


As a public benefit institution, YBCA believes that it is our mandate to respond. Our mission is to generate culture that moves people because we believe culture is an essential catalyst for change. In the spirit of our founding mandate to be the people’s center, our work spans the realms of art, civic engagement and public life. We invite everyone to join us. All artists, thinkers, and makers. All model citizens, soon-to-be citizens, and senior citizens. Because it will take the imagination and creativity of all of us to create a more equitable and inclusive future.


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