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San Francisco Travel

5 Free San Francisco Public Art Collections You Need To Know About by Kathi Wheater

While the idea of art as medicine dates back to antiquity, San Francisco’s newest medical campuses and hospital buildings are taking the art of healing to new heights with a wealth of installations, illuminated sculptures, murals and major works of art. And the public is invited.

Art, Science & Healing Intertwined
Kaiser Permanente Mission Bay Medical Offices, UCSF Mission Bay and the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, UCSF Parnassus, and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital are filled with doctors, patients, visitors, researchers… and art. While many of the works are in public plazas, outdoor areas and main lobbies, others are located within busy working hospital facilities to enhance the therapeutic environment. Navigating these publicly accessible areas requires an awareness of what you want to see, and a plan to access the locations. Some campuses provide downloadable maps, artwork and artist information; others ask visitors to first get a visitor badge from each building’s security desk.

Kaiser Permanente Mission Bay 
San Francisco’s newest medical facility will not open until March 8. 2016, yet its illuminated multi-story column of “Kaiser Blue” light is aglow nightly. The monumental stainless steel and LED sculpture “Monarch” by Cliff Garten can be experienced in the  park adjacent to the building at 1600 Owens St. During the day, sunlight emanates through the piece, enlivening individual butterflies; at night, programmable LEDs spotlight the gathering of Monarchs with multicolored luminescence. The piece was chosen by a team of local Kaiser Permanente staff with guidance from art advisor Chandra Cerrito and envisions the Monarch butterfly and its migration habits as a metaphor for how individuals become stronger by gathering together in communities. This massing of Monarch butterflies forms a completely new image – the sculpture as a vision of the city’s neighborhoods, which Kaiser Permanente serves.

UCSF Mission Bay
The public art collection at UCSF Mission Bay is named in honor of Nobel Laureate and Emeritus UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD, who collaborated with Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and a UCSF Art Advisory Board to amass a wealth of cutting-edge contemporary works equal to the scientific innovations of the campus. Dr. Bishop set aside one percent of campus building costs — a considerable sum in view of its scale — for world-class art (the state institution is exempt from the city’s percent-for-art requirement for new construction). One of the foremost artists of his time, San Francisco native Richard Serra created the monolithic sculpture “Ballast,” two 80-ton rectangular steel plates in the campus east plaza. Mark Di Suvero’s monumental “Dreamcatcher” rises out of the landscape on the eastern side of the Koret Quad near Fourth Street. In the main entry to Byers Hall, “Hammering Man at 2,908,440” by Jonathan Borofsky is on loan from SFMOMA. Numerous Bay Area artists, such as Mark Citret, Rosana Castrillo Diaz, Kota Ezawa, Vincent Fecteau and Paul Kos have works in publicly accessible interior spaces. Visitors must check in with building security in order to gain access to Genentech, Byers (QB3) and Rock Halls, the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building and Mission Bay Housing.

These Illuminated Works are a Must-See After Dark
“Overflow X” by Juame Piensa is a larger-than-life figurative sculpture of stainless steel letters installed in front of UCSF’s Orthopedic Institute at 1500 Owens St. near the UCSF campus, on the same street as the light art installation “Monarch” at Kaiser Permanente. “Anima” by Jim Sanborn, at 1700 Owens, is a towering cylinder of carved metal that’s lit from within to cast shadowy bits of ancient text and poetry in a halo across the plaza. (As you walk between the two, a peek into the lobby of 1650 Owens rewards with a vision of three large-format drawings by renowned California artist Wayne Thiebaud titled “City Views.”)

UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay
Beautiful objects and brilliancy of color, wrote Florence Nightingale in “Notes on Nursing,” are actual means of recovery. Scientific studies now suggest the healing power of art, and so the aim of UCSF Medical Center, says Cindy Lima, executive director of UCSF Mission Bay Hospitals Project, “is for art to be integrated into the fabric of our new facilities in a way that reinforced the healing environment that we were creating.” Curated with guidance from art advisor Lynne Baer, the collection includes Barry McGee’s site-specific mosaic-tile mural for an entrance lobby on Third Street that can be seen from the T-Third Muni Metro train platform. Clare Rojas designed the public amphitheater exterior with a mosaic of vivid, geometric shapes featuring hummingbirds. Spencer Finch created colored florescent tube lamp sculptures for the entrance to the adult hospital, representing stars in the constellation Ophiucus, named after the Greek god of healing and medicine. Shinique Smith held poetry workshops with UCSF pediatric patients and interpreted their inspiring words into “Fields of Joy,” an expansive wall mural in a first-floor corridor. The entrance to the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, designed by Jessica Stockholder, introduces visitors to bold shapes and colorful light as they walk in, and at night, the lighting transforms the lobby into a wonderland, when viewed from outside. View the artwork collection online, learn how these beautiful works came together in the video featuring artists Shinique Smith, Dave Muller and Clare Rojas, and to take a self-guided tour, download the art program brochure.

UCSF Parnassus
Much of the public art that has become a UCSF hallmark over the years can be found on the Parnassus campus, including sculptures by Beniamino Bufano, Robert Arneson, Nathan Oliveira and light artist Jim Campbell (featured on San Francisco Travel’s, murals by Douglas Cooper and Juana Alicia, and a stunning installation by Sarah Sze that cascades down the three-story front window of Kalmanovitz Library, much like liquid metal. The locations where most of the artworks are installed are the library, which has nine, and Saunders Court with six, a somewhat hard to find green space next to the School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences buildings. This eclectic group of purchased, commissioned, and donated artworks by internationally known and emerging artists dates from the 1930s to the present, and is curated by the Chancellor’s Committee on Art, Honors, and Recognition with guidance from art advisor Lynne Baer. To take a self-guided tour of the collection, download the art map.

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital
The complete collection of 14 public art installations and more than 200 framed works at the new acute care and trauma center at the hospital, which was officially named the Priscella Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center at its November 2015 re-dedication, are yet to be unveiled. However, two light art installations can be experienced right now: “Ethereal Bodies 8,” by Cliff Garten is a group of eight slender and diaphanous illuminated sculptures within a planted earthwork on the 23rd Street entry drive median. For “Archipelago,” which is slightly obstructed by construction barriers as of this writing, Anna Valentina Murch designed the entire plaza between the new hospital and Building 5 with sculptural seating and lighting, planters and olive trees, to be like islands set into a meandering river. (Both artworks are featured on San Francisco Travel’s While being a local artist is not a criteria or directive of the San Francisco Arts Commission when accepting proposals for public works of art, when the final decisions were made by the Arts Commission based on the quality of the artists’ vision and work, it’s exciting to see that a number of commissions went to Bay Area artists, and in the case of artists Anna Valentina Murch and Paul Kos, who live close by, and Rupert Garcia, who started his career in the Mission, it’s hyper-local. To see the works that are currently accessible and get a sneak peek at more, download the public art brochure.


The San Francisco Arts Commission is the City agency that champions the arts as essential to daily life by investing in a vibrant arts community, enlivening the urban environment and shaping innovative cultural policy.

San Francisco enhances the beauty of its public buildings and spaces through the two-percent-for-art requirement for new building construction.