Public Knowledge

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Public Knowledge

About History People Press Resources Contact Us Back to Top


Public Knowledge is a collaborative, multifaceted project that promotes 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 is led by SFMOMA in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library, and is funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Our collaborators—including artists, librarians, and community partners—research and create relevant, accessible and imaginative experiences for museumgoers and library patrons that nurture a culture of inquiry and foster public participation on key questions related to the profound shifts taking place in San Francisco. Public Knowledge comprises 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 quarterly publication.




Key Themes

Public Knowledge considers 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 provides 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 explore 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 representing and circulating 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 seeks to create new spaces for public dialogue around these issues, catalyze the exchange of ideas and together, develop new approaches to strengthening the fabric of civic life.




How Do I Get Involved?

You can visit the project’s physical location at 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 details of upcoming talks, discussions and other events—all of which are free and open to the public. For a deeper dive into Public Knowledge themes, visit The Stacks online, which features interviews with thought leaders and community members; essays from curators, scholars, writers and artists; and reports on recent Public Knowledge events. Follow us on social media to go behind the scenes with artists, staff, and librarians and sign up for our monthly newsletter to get the latest news on Public Knowledge happenings.