Public Knowledge was a collaborative, multifaceted project that promoted public dialogue among a dynamic network of partners on the cultural impact of urban and technological change in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the stakes involved in surviving, resisting, adapting to and attempting to shape these changes. Public Knowledge operated from 2017 through 2019, and was led by SFMOMA in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library. Public Knowledge was funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Our collaborators—including artists, librarians, and community partners—researched and created relevant, accessible and imaginative experiences for museumgoers and library patrons that nurtured a culture of inquiry and fostered public participation on key questions related to the profound shifts taking place in San Francisco. Public Knowledge comprised their contributions, including thought-provoking projects led by contemporary artists from near and far; free talks, discussions, performances and creative workshops; and interviews and essays from The Stacks, our online publication.
Public Knowledge considered two interrelated questions: How is the current wave of urban change reshaping the culture of the Bay Area and beyond? And what is the relationship between urban change and knowledge in the digital age?
The Changing City
The rapid growth of the technology industry in San Francisco and the wider Bay Area has led to increasing inequality, hyper-gentrification, the privatization of public resources, new forms of exclusion and the rapid remaking of the urban environment. Public Knowledge provided opportunities for community members to work with humanities scholars and artists to interpret these changes and explore how community-based cultural activity and public life can be sustained or rebuilt.
Knowledge in the Digital age
Museums and libraries have historically been responsible for representing and circulating ideas. New modes of circulation are now prevalent online, thanks to private technology companies, creating wider accessibility yet also engendering troubling new threats to democracy, free speech, and even personal safety. Public Knowledge scholars and artists explored current thinking on this theme, including how digital technology can support the creation and sharing of information that supports civic participation.
SFMOMA re-opened in 2016 at the center of a city undergoing powerful changes, and a region that is redefining—through technological innovation—what knowledge is, how it is produced and how it is circulated. Recognizing the unique role of libraries and museums to represent and circulate ideas, upon the museum’s reopening, SFMOMA curators Deena Chalabi and Dominic Willsdon sought to deepen and extend their working relationship with the San Francisco Public Library and its communities. Public Knowledge was born out of that collaboration, as a platform for exploring the tectonic economic, social and cultural shifts transforming San Francisco and the evolving role of public institutions in this new cultural landscape. By nurturing relationships and connections among a broad network of collaborators, it sought to create new spaces for public dialogue around these issues, catalyze the exchange of ideas and together, and develop new approaches to strengthening the fabric of civic life.
Want to Learn More?
You can visit the Public Knowledge Library, a temporary branch of the San Francisco Public Library at SFMOMA, where you can access library resources and engage with Public Knowledge materials. Check out our calendar for an archive of our talks, discussions and other events—all of which were free and open to the public. For a deeper dive into Public Knowledge themes, visit The Stacks online, which features interviews with diverse thinkers and community members; essays from curators, scholars, writers and artists; and reports on Public Knowledge events. You can also check out our social media to get a closer look at our Artist Projects and community collaborations.