Take Part asked "Is there room for San Francisco in San Francisco?"

Take Part

Overview Team & Partners Model History Blog Map Resources Back to Top

Take Part

Overview Team & Partners Model History Blog Map Resources Back to Top

About Take Part:


Photograph by Jorell Legaspi


What is Take Part?

San Francisco is a complex city, both beloved and constantly changing. The team behind Take Part wants to help create a shared vision of San Francisco by anchoring public discussions about its past, present, and future—its opportunities and challenges—to a tangible object: a thousand-square-foot scale model of the city, first built in the late 1930s. In early 2019, each San Francisco Public Library neighborhood branch will host its corresponding section of the scale model, which will be an opportunity for public discussion and events. Later, the hope is to bring the whole model together to be displayed as one object, and one city. Take Part is an invitation to you to experience the model with us—to reflect with us on your relationship to the city and to imagine its future possibilities.


Who makes up the Take Part team?

Take Part is led by the artist team Bik Van der Pol, and it is part of Public Knowledge, an ongoing collaboration between SFMOMA and the San Francisco Public Library (more on this collaboration below). The University of California, Berkeley, is a critical partner, and the project has many collaborators, including community organizations, historians, geographers, planners, and many more (see the full list). We hope you will “take part,” too!


Who is Bik Van der Pol?

Bik Van der Pol is the collective name of the duo of Dutch artists Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol, whose vision is guiding Take Part. They have worked around the world in a variety of forms, including performance, publications, videos, and objects, to explore how “publics” are formed and come together. Several of their projects deal with archives and collections, while others are about particular places and local histories.

Their work typically involves facilitating dialogue among residents or participants, identifying histories or relationships that might symbolize how the public takes shape in a given context, and then creating a form (often a performance) in which this can be made visible and experienced.

In Take Part, Bik Van der Pol aims to articulate how art can produce a public sphere and create space for speculation and imagination in and about San Francisco. The work here explores questions about public rights to space, changing communities, and how we make decisions as a city.


What is Public Knowledge?

Public Knowledge is a collaboration between SFMOMA and the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) that focuses on the cultural impact of urban change and how knowledge is transforming in the digital age. It has four main components: a temporary branch of SFPL inside SFMOMA with resources focusing on art, activism, technology, cities, culture, and education; a public talks series; a collection of artist collaborations; and online publishing. It is funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and has been co-curated by SFMOMA curators Deena Chalabi and Dominic Willsdon. The project manager is Stella Lochman, senior program associate, Public Dialogue, and the project director is Tomoko Kanamitsu, interim head of Public Dialogue.

How did Public Knowledge come about?

Public Knowledge came out of a collaboration between SFMOMA and the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) while SFMOMA’s building was closed for expansion. After the museum reopened, SFMOMA curators Deena Chalabi and Dominic Willsdon wanted to deepen and extend their working relationship with SFPL and its communities, and Public Knowledge was born.



About the Model:


Seal for W.P.A. Scale Model of San Francisco


What is the San Francisco scale model?

The San Francisco scale model is a detailed wooden model of the city of San Francisco at a scale of one inch to one hundred feet, making for a total size of roughly one thousand square feet, fully assembled. It was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the late 1930s and took two years to build. While it is not “art” in the traditional sense, it is a meticulously crafted historical artifact and part of the living history of San Francisco.


When and why was the model made?

The brainchild of prominent San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger, the model was made by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the San Francisco Planning Commission between 1938 and 1940. It was made to be used as a city planning tool, a tourist attraction and for educational purposes.

There were many WPA projects in the Bay Area at the time, including the Bay Bridges, the Caldecott Tunnel, and the development of Treasure Island. (Even more changes were planned, including a proposed subway line down Market Street.) The model was to be used to develop and evaluate these proposed plans. Each city “block” was made on the model as a literal wooden block that can be lifted out, allowing for hands-on interaction with the city, and making the model easy to update as the city changed.

This model is one of several city scale models in the United States, the most famous of which is the Queens model of New York, which was made for the 1964 World’s Fair. It depicts all five boroughs and is on display at the Queens Museum.


Where has the San Francisco model been since it was made?

When it was still being completed, a section of the model was displayed on Treasure Island at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939. Beginning in April 1940, it was displayed at City Hall. In 1942, the model was packed away when the room in which it was displayed was repurposed for World War II administration. Over the next decades, sections were sometimes updated by city planners, including the addition of public housing in the Western Addition and Chinatown.

In the late 1960s, the model moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where the downtown portion was used as a planning tool for urban design studies by the Environmental Simulation Laboratory, a research center led by Professor Peter Bosselmann. The model was used by Professor Bosselmann and the Planning Commission to evaluate proposed developments in the downtown area of San Francisco and to study how the area could be developed without sacrificing the character of the city. The rest of the model, comprising roughly two-thirds of the city (primarily the western and southern neighborhoods), was put into storage, where it remained until SFMOMA approached UC Berkeley about this project. To our knowledge, the model has not been on public view—and certainly not in its entirety—since 1942.


How did SFMOMA end up with the model?

SFMOMA has worked with UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Public Library to borrow and display the model for the purposes of Bik Van der Pol’s project. An agreement was reached thanks to the patience and hard work of several advocates, including the artists, UC Berkeley faculty, and SFMOMA curators and staff, who have been working to get the model once again publicly exhibited.


What are you going to do with the model?

Over the summer of 2018, the model was cleaned and assessed by SFMOMA staff and volunteers, neighborhood by neighborhood. Volunteers included librarians, city planners, writers, historian, activists, artists, and friends. Throughout the process, we held many conversations about the character, changes, and futures of our neighborhoods and the city as a whole, which informed how we have thought about using, or “reading,” the model in its next phases.

After several months of meetings with librarians and community stakeholders about how the model could be best dispatched as a tool for civic engagement, sections of the model will be publicly exhibited throughout the branches of the San Francisco Public Library, from January 25 to April 28, 2019. Each neighborhood will be on display in its corresponding library, including the twenty-seven neighborhood branches, the main branch, and the temporary branch at SFMOMA. Events and programs have been developed according to each neighborhood’s interests and focus on key themes, broadly related to publicness and civic participation. Everyone is invited to gather around the model, learn about the city’s hidden past, and discuss their neighborhoods. Activities for a range of ages will include site-specific storytelling, town hall discussions, history nights, virtual tours, neighborhood walks, bike rides, mapmaking, and more.

Eventually, we hope that all those neighborhoods will come together, and the model city will be displayed in its entirety in a yet-to-be determined public space, allowing for different audiences and participants to come together to find new ways to imagine, perform, and participate in the life of the city. It turns out, it is challenging to find a place in San Francisco for San Francisco! Stay tuned for details.


Will the model be on display to the public?

Each model neighborhood will be publicly displayed in its corresponding San Francisco Public Library branch in early 2019 (January 25−April 28). Please see the calendar or your local branch library for more details about events and programming.


Why is the project called Take Part?

The title of Take Part comes from “Taking Part,” a community planning workshop process created in the 1970s by Lawrence and Anna Halprin, a landscape architect and dancer/choreographer, respectively. The central concept behind the workshop encourages “collective creativity,” or people working together in groups to solve creatively problems. Collective creativity can be applied to a range of interactions, including personal communications, city planning, group therapy, education, and community development.

With Take Part, Bik Van der Pol used collective creativity by soliciting advice and knowledge from across layers of society, involving a multitude of voices in discussions and inviting participants from diverse backgrounds, skills, and ages to infuse the model with their perspectives. Public libraries, the primary site for the project, were once and continue to be a core infrastructure of public culture in the United States. Take Part will facilitate libraries’ exploring their roles with their communities as hubs for citizenship and communal gatherings, and as pillars of public life.



Visitor/Participant-Specific FAQs:


W.P.A. Scale Model of San Francisco on view at the Golden Gate International Exhibition, 1939; From the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library.


Can I touch the San Francisco scale model?

While it is not “art” in the traditional sense, the San Francisco scale model is a meticulously crafted historical artifact that is very fragile. Although it was made as an interactive tool for planners, it is, unfortunately, not possible for the public display to be interactive, as the model’s components are delicate.


Can I find my house or workplace on the model?

You may be able to find the location of your house or workplace. However, while much of the city will be on view, not every block of San Francisco will be on display during the neighborhood phase because of space constraints at the libraries.


Why didn’t you choose local artists for this project?

Public Knowledge has featured projects led by both local and international artists in order to provide multiple perspectives on the initiative’s key themes of the changing city and knowledge in the digital age. We chose artists whose medium is public engagement, not strictly painting, photography, or sculpture. They all have backgrounds in working with large numbers of constituents to develop projects that are deeply thoughtful about place and history.

We invited the Dutch artist collective Bik Van der Pol to develop a project in this context, and Take Part is the result. Bik Van der Pol learned about the San Francisco scale model during a research trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, and the artists decided to see if they could use it as the basis for a larger project about civic imagination. This project is consistent with their approach worldwide, to understand social relationships, bring to light hidden stories and resources in a particular location, and make those stories more public.

Aiming to involve many kinds of expertise, Take Part features a number of local artist collaborators who have participated in the research phases and who are organizing events and programs in the context of their neighborhoods.


Why is this considered art?

In many ways, this is an art project because it was conceived by artists. Take Part is an opportunity for discussion and reflection without a prescribed agenda. Art can create a space for imagination that is often hard to find in other parts of public life. Here there is no goal, no one meaning or outcome that is desired, simply an opportunity to bring together different points of view into dialogue about the city.

Public engagement, or public practice, is a mode of art-making that has existed at least since the 1960s but has become much more prevalent worldwide since 2000. It is not widely recognized as a form of contemporary art, partially because it takes many different guises, involves many collaborators, and is harder to exhibit in traditional galleries. Public Knowledge has aimed to broaden awareness of public engagement as a form of art by showcasing artists who are researchers into the contemporary dynamics of public life and who are the creators of visions of new social possibilities.


How can I learn more?

For more about Take Part, visit your local San Francisco Public Library branch between January 25 and March 25, 2019. Each branch will have a reading list or a bookshelf of material relevant to the project.

For more on Bik Van der Pol, visit www.bikvanderpol.net.

For more about Public Knowledge, visit us online or in person at SFMOMA, where you can browse books about the key themes, including a great selection of books about San Francisco.


How can I participate, or “take part”?

Join us for public programs in your neighborhood! Follow us at:



What was the population of San Francisco in 1940?

According to the US Census, 634,536 people lived in San Francisco in 1940.


How/where can I give feedback about the project?

You can share feedback on Instagram or Facebook.


In addition, in every library, notebooks accompany the model sections, where you can leave your comments, corrections, and clarifications.


Feedback is welcome during the programs in every branch, including the discussions around the model and the moderated programs.