Launched in April 2017, Public Knowledge is a two-year project that aims to promote public dialogue on the cultural impact of urban change. Through artist projects, research collaborations, public programs, and publishing, it builds new connections between ideas, individuals, and communities. Public Knowledge is based in San Francisco and takes place at multiple locations in the city.

The project grew in a response to the profound changes taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area due to the rapid growth of the technology industry. While many have benefited from the resulting boom, it has also led to increasing inequality. Rising costs and unevenly distributed gains create ever greater difficulties for those excluded: a fraying sense of community as everyday life becomes more precarious; the disappearance of an inclusive and diverse cultural ecology as nonprofit organizations and cultural spaces are priced out of neighborhoods; and the loss of cultural memory for those without the means to represent themselves.

San Francisco may be an extreme instance of this process of hyper-gentrification, but it is not unique. Many other cities in the United States and around the world have shared similar experiences. The changes are so fast and so deep that it can be hard to interpret and respond to their impact on public life.

At the same time, the technology industry, with both a deep local impact and a global reach, has disrupted what knowledge is, how it is produced, and how it is circulated. As information and resources are increasingly privatized and public trust is eroded, how can the forms and institutions of public knowledge be maintained?

Public Knowledge brings together artists, scholars, librarians, community organizers, and San Francisco residents to consider these questions. By sharing their varied expertise and creating new knowledge through the project’s activities, participants can learn from each other and, collectively, begin to develop new approaches to strengthening the fabric of civic life.

Public Knowledge is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library. The project has been made possible in part by a major Public Humanities Projects, Community Conversations grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.



Public Knowledge is co-curated by Deena Chalabi, Barbara and Stephan Vermut Associate Curator of Public Dialogue, and Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice. Stella Lochman, Program Associate, Public Dialogue, is head of production.

Michelle Jeffers, Chief, Communications, Programs & Partnerships, and Cathy Delano, Chief of Branches lead the partnership at the San Francisco Public Library.


Participating Artists


  • Burak Arikan is an artist based in New York and Istanbul. His practice involves working with communities to create digital maps of complex networks of social relationships. Arikan is the founder of the Graph Commons collaborative network mapping tool.
  • Bik Van der Pol is an artistic team comprising Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol. They live and work in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Through their work they aim to understand how art can produce a public sphere. Their method entails creating opportunities for communicative activities that explore the histories of publics and places.
  • Josh Kun is a music scholar, writer, professor and curator whose work focuses on popular music and culture. In “Songs in the Key of Los Angeles” and “To Live and Dine in LA” Kun collaborated with the Los Angeles Public Library and the Library Foundation of LA and using library collections to explore, analyze and reanimate Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music, cultural ephemera and visual art. The project included a book, an exhibition, and a variety of city-wide public programs and media events. (See full biography below)
  • Stephanie Syjuco creates large-scale sculptures and installations composed of collected cultural objects and archival materials. Often these often inviting viewers to participate directly as producers or distributors. Syjuco is concerned with equality in access to knowledge, and is based in the Bay Area.
  • Minerva Cuevas  is a conceptual and socially engaged artist based in Mexico City who creates sculptural installations, paintings, videos and site-specific interventions in response to politically charged events.


Participating Scholars


  • Julia Bryan-Wilson is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Bryan-Wilson teaches modern and contemporary art, with a focus on art since 1960 in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Bryan-Wilson is a leading member of UC Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities initiative with much of her work concerning the history and theory of art as public engagement.
  • Jon Christensen is an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, the Department of History, and the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a a senior fellow in UCLA’s cityLAB. Christensen’s work in the digital humanities often involves collaborative research that examines how the joint application of technology and humanities ideas can intersect in the real world.
  • Teddy Cruz is a professor of public culture and urbanism in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego, where he co-founded the Center for Urban Ecologies with urban curator Kyong Park in 2010; and co-founded the Blum Cross-Border Initiative with political theorist Fonna Forman in 2013. He was also a special advisor to the City of San Diego on Urban and Public Initiatives in 2013-14.
  • Fonna Forman is founding co-director of the University of California, San Diego Center on Global Justice and the Blum Cross-Border Initiative. Her current work focuses on theories and practices of global justice as they manifest at local and regional scales, and the role of civic participation in strategies of equitable urbanization. Her recent projects, with collaborator Teddy Cruz, include an exhibition on social housing in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), and Visualizing Citizenship: Seeking a New Public Imagination at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
  • Jennifer A. González is a professor of the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She writes about contemporary art with an emphasis on installation art, digital art and activist art. She is interested in understanding the strategic use of space (exhibition space, public space, and virtual space) by contemporary artists and by cultural institutions such as museums. More specifically, she has focused on the representation of the human body and its relation to discourses of race and gender.
  • Shannon Jackson is the Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi Chair in the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley, where sure is a professor of Rhetoric and of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. In 2015, she was appointed to be the first Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design. Her books include Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics (Routledge 2011), and Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, co-edited with Johanna Burton and Dominic Willsdon (M.I.T. Press,). Jackson is the director of UC Berkeley’s Art Research Center and is a member of the Steering Committee for UC Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities Initiative.
  • Josh Kun is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, and also director of The Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg’s The Norman Lear Center.  He is the curator of a series of musical interventions for the Getty Foundation’s 2017 PST: LA/LA initiative. His articles and essays have appeared in numerous scholarly journals, anthologies, and exhibition catalogs.
  • Fred Turner is the Harry and Norman Chandler Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at Stanford University. He is the author of  The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006). He also worked for ten years as a journalist, writing for newspapers and magazines ranging from the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine to Nature.





Public Knowledge is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library. The project has been made possible in part by a major Public Humanities Projects, Community Conversations grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.