SFMOMA: Expanding state-of-the-arts education for all

SFMOMA: Expanding state-of-the-arts education for all

Oct 2017 | Arts and Culture

Supporting Bay Area cultural institutions is a long-standing priority of the Koret Foundation. We consider the arts to be part of a well-rounded education for learners of all ages. The Koret Education Center (the Center) at SFMOMA has been designed to enrich many aspects of the museum-going experience. It serves as a place for visitors to look and discuss, discover and experiment, and engage in research and hands-on making. In addition to providing enjoyment and inspiration, the arts play a valuable role in cognitive, social, and emotional development. The Center significantly expands SFMOMA’s capacity to engage schoolchildren—the art appreciators, artists, and cultural supporters of tomorrow—as well as adults from various backgrounds.

SFMOMA, founded in 1935, moved to San Francisco’s SoMa district in 1995. Over the next 18 years, three marvelous things happened: the museum’s presence helped transform the entire neighborhood; museum attendance increased dramatically; and the museum’s collection grew.

The museum needed to expand, both to showcase new artworks, most notably the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, and to welcome even more visitors. As part of the ambitious renovation, SFMOMA envisioned placing education at the heart—literally and figuratively—of the new museum. The museum also planned to extend free admission for children (previously offered up to age twelve) to young people aged eighteen and under.

SFMOMA closed for three years, reopening in May 2016 as one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the country. The new Center is 4,800 square feet, more than doubling the earlier version. It accommodates a broad range of activities, serving as the base of operations for the Education and Public Practice staff. Their team continues to innovate and implement new programs to serve twice as many annual museum visitors as previously. In its first year, the new SFMOMA doubled its teacher engagement and school-aged visitor attendance.

Design Details

In both looks and functionality, the Center seamlessly blends with the museum as a whole, outfitted with the same flooring, lighting, and state-of-the-art sound systems. The space is remarkably easy to reconfigure as an art studio, an auditorium, a performance space, a gallery, a meeting room. Look carefully, and you might find that one of its white walls is actually a series of seven sliding panels. Each panel is a magnetic whiteboard measuring 8 square feet. The panels are also closet doors, and can glide open to reveal deep sinks, bookshelves, art materials, and storage for teachers’ and students’ belongings. At the opposite end of the Center, if you time your visit just right, you might even get a glimpse of the hidden storage for schoolchildren’s backpacks.

Diverse Audiences

The Center is SFMOMA’s dedicated public hub for learning and collaboration. Classes of schoolchildren, accompanied by their teachers, begin their museum experience here. Visiting artists speak here. Experts teach workshops here. Teachers attend training sessions. Museum guides learn about upcoming exhibitions. Teachers as well as guides use the Center’s library for research, planning, and prep. Community partners and civic groups hold programs here. Hands-on activities in the new Center’s first year included screen printing, book arts, and karaoke. Two public schools (Balboa High School and Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts) actually use the Center as an extension of their classrooms. The Center also features three small, often participatory exhibitions each year and offers a wealth of curated resources for public perusal. It is a happening place for visitors of all ages and interests.

Looking Ahead

The Education and Public Practice staff will pilot new programs to take place in the Center, for adults as well as for schoolchildren. During the 2017–2018 school year, SFMOMA anticipates welcoming 50,000 schoolchildren to the museum.

Year 1 in the new Koret Education Center



Back-to-back classes of schoolchildren can receive their museum orientations here in a single hour, thanks to ample secure storage for everyone’s backpacks, a dedicated entrance, and the multiple, flexible spaces in the Center. In contrast, the earlier Center could only welcome one school class per hour.


Percent of museum guide-led tours were for San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) students. SFUSD administrators also used the Center for meetings and training.


Museum guides attended training sessions, workshops, meetings, and appreciation events in the Center. In addition to leading school and public tours in the museum, guides lead art activities in school classrooms throughout the city. Guides often use the Center’s library and office space for research and prep.


Teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area attended Museum Preview Day, three Special Saturdays for Teachers, and professional development workshops, including institutes. The Center serves as a hub for many of these activities. SFMOMA issued over 900 teacher passes, granting free admission to SFUSD educators.


K-12 students from San Francisco/the Bay Area visited the museum, more than double the pre-renovation number. Two-thirds of these visits were scheduled, and students began their tours in the Center before heading into the galleries for museum guide-led activities.