Thanks to an anonymous donation, 21 museums in San Francisco will offer free admission the weekend of December 3, reported Diary.

The city, which is usually associated with the tech industry, reportedly struggled to bounce back after Covid caused many workers to stop going to their offices. With a 20% office vacancy rate that has been steadily rising, the city looks emptier than it did in 2019.

Art institution leaders see the event, known as San Francisco Free Museum Weekend, as a way to bring citizens together.

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“San Francisco Free Museum Weekend couldn’t have been timed better,” said Jay Xu, director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum, in an interview with Diary. “As we emerge from the challenges of the past few months, Bay Area museums are here to help our communities reconnect with each other and with the artists who inspire them.”

The free weekend follows a report by the New York Times which traced San Francisco’s status as a vibrant arts center to a veritable ghost town. Many have challenged the thesis of this report, saying it focused on the exodus from mega-galleries to the exclusion of many other members of a wealthy local scene.

While the free weekend alone is a drop in the ocean, it’s a gesture that recognizes that there are major barriers to art.

“In these economically challenging and politically divided times, museums provide a critical venue for discourse, reflection and inspiration,” Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, said in a statement. Quoted by Diary. “Increasing access to art spaces and breaking down barriers to experiencing art is crucial.”

On December 3, admission fees will be waived at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of Craft and Design, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, at the GLBT Historical Society Museum, American Bookbinders Museum: Letterform Archive, SF Camerawork, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye, Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco and Minnesota Street Project.

On December 4, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of African Diaspora, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Children’s Creativity Museum, the Asian Art Museum and the Exploratorium will join these institutions.

Special must-see exhibits that will also be free to museum visitors include retrospectives by painters Diego Rivera and Joan Brown at SFMOMA and a celebration of painter Bernice Bing at the Museum of Asian Art.

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