The Best Friend an Artist Could Have

Longtime Grants for the Arts Director Kary Schulman retired last month. Leaders in the arts community reflect on her tenure.

Photo -- Kary at the Lee Ufan Museum on Naoshima, Japan, 2016.

In 2004, David Wiegand, the late arts editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that Kary Schulman was “one of a kind and only in San Francisco.” Last month, the long-time Grants for the Arts director retired. Rather than write an article citing Kary’s many achievements, we asked several members of the San Francisco arts community to share their thoughts on working with Kary over the years and decades. Here is what they said:


“Kary is the ultimate warrior for artists.  With courage and a deep profound love, she has championed the belief that we who make work—interacting with one another in the trenches, on stages, in the streets and in sundry unconventional spaces—do make a difference. The arts in San Francisco exist because of her passion and her commitment.”

 → Margaret Jenkins
Founder/Artistic Director,
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company


“Kary Schulman is a visionary who transformed Grants for the Arts into a national model for public funding of the arts that is the envy of cities worldwide. She has left an indelible mark on San Francisco and will be greatly missed in this role. I’ll be forever grateful for her mentorship.”

 → Tom DeCaigny
Director of Cultural Affairs


“Like so many here in San Francisco, I am endlessly grateful for Kary Schulman’s support and guidance over the years. Her extraordinary leadership and passion for the arts are matched only by her graceful and kind spirit. Kary’s vision and expertise have been a driving force in making San Francisco a vibrant and innovative arts community.” 

 → Joanna Haigood
Artistic Director,
Zaccho Dance Theatre


“I will forever be thankful to Kary Schulman for her guidance, warm laugh and welcoming presence at performances. Performances that would not have been as grand without Grants for the Arts—aka Kary’s—support. And yet, Kary was quick to dismiss any compliments made to her deeply impactful work with a casual, ‘That’s my job!’” Kary, what a legacy you leave us with. Job well done, m’dear!”

 → Wayne Hazzard
Executive Director,
Dancers’ Group


“Kary Schulman has been an integral part of the arts environment in San Francisco for more than three decades. Her vision for Grants for the Arts and her support of artists and audiences is legendary. She is truly a super hero and her influence on the artistic life here has been profound. Kronos and I have been grateful to know and work with Kary for 35 years, and we deeply appreciate her remarkable contributions to this great city. She is an inspiration, and an advocate, like no other.” 

 → Janet Cowperthwaite
Managing Director,
Kronos Quartet


“If there is one person to be crowned most important cultural instigator in San Francisco, it would be Kary Schulman. Her curiosity, intelligence, wry humor, leadership and voracious appetite for all things performance have promoted and helped sustain generations of artists. The ongoing institutional Grants for the Arts support she has championed these 38 years has been key to our survival. She will be deeply missed but her legacy lives on in us all.”

 → Brenda Way
Founder/Artistic Director,


“More than 20 years ago, Kary created the ground-breaking Arts & Tourism Program, a partnership with SF Travel to promote arts and culture to the visitor market. This program became a national model and has been replicated by numerous cities. Her impact on the arts community goes far beyond San Francisco.”

 → Geraldine O’Brien
Former Director,
Arts & Tourism


“Kary’s leadership helped our organization grow from a small community fair to one of the longest-running festivals in San Francisco. She always encouraged us to look outside the box, to find new ways and opportunities to keep this important community festival thriving. The relationship that she has nurtured with us for 38 years is something that we are forever grateful for. She’s been an inspiration to all of us to keep on sharing our diverse cultures through the arts.”

 → Grace Horikiri
Executive Director,
Nihonmachi Street Fair


“Passing Prop E in San Francisco with Kary Schulman’s leadership and support was a great achievement for all of us culture workers. Kary has been such a wonderful, warm and caring advocate, colleague and friend in these tumbling years! She is everything a grassroots art organization could ask for.”

 → Abby Chen
formerly Curator & Artistic Director
at Chinese Culture Center & Foundation,
currently Head of Contemporary Art
at Asian Art Museum


“Kary Schulman is a quiet innovator who has informed, supported and inspired me and so many others in the Bay Area arts community. She has simultaneously promoted our culture and elevated the human beings who make our city unique. She is a true champion of all Bay Area artists.”

 → Lisa Steindler
Executive Artist Director,
Z Space


“I have always felt that Kary held the San Francisco artist’s community in her heart and that was what motivated her work as the mainstay of Grants for the Arts. Especially in recent years, when the increasing economic disparity in our city wreaked havoc on local artists, leaving them insecure and often displaced, Kary remained a constant advocate for their support. She has been a friend to our community and was always a great philosophical sounding board.”

 → Ellen Callas
General Manager/Collective Member,
San Francisco Mime Troupe 


“Working tirelessly as a behind-the-scenes fulcrum, Kary Schulman has been the peerless champion for art makers in San Francisco.”

 → Alonzo King
Founder & Artistic Director,
Alonzo King LINES Ballet


“Kary was dedicated to the arts and artists of San Francisco. I always appreciated bumping into her as she was out supporting arts throughout the city. She was fair and supportive and did so much to ensure arts and art organizations thrived. Her fingerprints are all over the arts and culture of San Francisco!”

 → Joen Madonna
Executive Director,
Art Span


“Dear Sweet Kary: Thank you, thank you, thank you for your hard word, encouragement and guidance. You’ve been there with us from the beginning, all the way back to our first application in 1981, and you’ve made all that Theatre Rhino is possible. Bless you and your great good will! XO.”

 → John Fisher and All the Rhinos
Theatre Rhinoceros


“Kary is a San Francisco hero! She has flawlessly led the city’s principal arts funding agency with vigor, heart and professionalism. Kary cared! And as a result she made a great city asset stronger—year after year. I may be biased (I think not) because she saw merit in a proposal (to which she gave wise guidance) for a community jazz festival in 1983. She led the way for SFJAZZ to begin and has been supportive, and honest, for every year of our growth. I cannot thank Kary enough for her service to, and influence on, the cultural life of San Francisco.” 

 → Randall Kline
Executive Artistic Director and Founder,


“Kary’s job had nothing to do with money and everything to do with her fervent belief that San Francisco is only its best self when the arts reflect the richness of a city striving to retain its sense of multi-culturalism. Kary made us better at our jobs because she fought tirelessly on our behalf.
She motivated each of us to do more than offer cliche statements about ensuring access to the arts. Kary’s wonder about the arts was reflected in her fight and for that I am truly grateful.”

 → Courtney Beck
Executive Director,
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra