Style and Substance

The San Francisco Fine Arts Museums raise $1.5 million



Mary Beth Shimmon, Denise Hale, David Shimmon.


Capote and his Swans ain’t got nothing on style-savvy San Franciscans. Our glamour gals and fine-feathered swains were out in force on April 4 at the de Young in Golden Gate Park for the Fine Arts Museums’ Annual Gala and Late Night after-party.

Led by co-chairs Mary Beth Shimmon and her husband, CoFAM trustee David Shimmon, this elegant fundraiser scored a record $1.5 million for the exhibitions and community programming at the de Young and the Legion of Honor museums.

The two-tiered fête drew 330 VIPs, artists, collectors, and designers to a black-tie dinner soirée. Then 900 next-gen FAM supporters reveled late into the night, roaming galleries that pulsated with live performances and activations while savoring gourmet nibbles and craft cocktails.

The dinner theme, “Celebrating San Francisco in Style,” inspired patrons to don haute couture ensembles in homage to knockout de Young exhibitions currently on view: Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style, and the exclusive West Coast presentation of Irving Penn, a gorgeous exploration of portraits by one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.

“The other day, I think I was the only person in downtown San Francisco wearing a suit. But elegance isn’t work. Elegance is just dressing in something nicer than what you originally planned to wear,” shared Dede Wilsey, chair emerita to the FAMSF board of trustees, who dazzled in a floral Dolce & Gabbana gown. “Due to COVID, I often ‘shop’ in my closet, where I find the most beautiful dresses that haven’t yet been to a ball. There’s even a pink Dior dress — similar to one in our collection — that my mother wore in the ‘50s. I love that our exhibition highlights these classic works of couture.”

That classic vibe was expertly expressed by designer J. Riccardo Benavides and Mary Beth Shimmon, who dreamed-up a décor love letter inspired by the 1915 San Francisco Panama–Pacific Exposition, which established the city as a global arts influencer.

The mood was evocative of a grand debutante party inside a classic Victorian manse: A clear tent framed the museum’s outdoor patio, which Benavides augmented with floral wall accents. His sumptuous tables  — beautifully set with torchieres, spring florals, and Chinoiserie-style bud vases and service-ware — were accented by a delectable four-course (caviar mousseline, Dungeness crab salad, filet mignon, chocolate pot de creme) McCalls Catering and Events dinner.



“Now is a critical time to celebrate and support our dynamic cultural offerings, for residents and visitors alike, that define San Francisco as a world-class city,” said Mary Beth Shimmon, draped in a vintage Yves Saint Laurent gown from the famed 1976 Opéras – Ballets russes collection. “And the Fine Arts Museums are truly a beacon.”

The evening also honored Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, SF Mayor London Breed, and Taiwanese American conceptual artist Lee Mingwei, whose Rituals of Care exhibition — the most comprehensive body of his work ever shown in the United States — is also on view at the de Young.

Breed recalled her first visit as a 9-year-old student to the de Young, where she was wowed to discover works by Black artists. She also praised the efforts of civic leader Wilsey, who so adroitly rallies for FAM that the mayor announced she will not make any cuts in her budget to city-owned Fine Arts Museums.

Lee, who lived in San Francisco as a teen and received his BFA Textiles degree from California College of the Arts, recalled his first visit to an American museum was also at the de Young: “I’ve always believed that this museum is the spirit house of the bay village, San Francisco. It gives us the opportunity to encounter magnificent things and also beautiful, magic miracles.”

The tributes were capped by Walker — visionary leader of the $16 billion Ford Foundation, which is dedicated to social justice and human welfare — who inspired a standing ovation among the dinner crowd.


Lee Mingwei, Thomas Campbell, Darren Walker.


“There is something truly remarkable about San Francisco; a rare and special American city that is also a global brand,” toasted Walker. “And as a somewhat biased New Yorker, there are occasions when I feel a little envy. Tonight is one such occasion.”

His work allows him the privilege of experiencing thousands of global non-profits and cultural organizations. But amid the exemplars, he said, there are always three elements: great leadership, like FAMSF Director-CEO Thomas Campbell; great boards filled with philanthropists who make it possible for these institutions to exist; and great staff “who do the work — not because it is a job, but because it is a calling.”

“Ultimately, in this democracy, this experiment called, “America,’ museums matter — they play the soundtrack of who we are. And the great programming and exhibition schedule of FAM is truly excellent,” Walker said. “When we talk about diversity, we’re not talking about wokeness; we’re not talking about political correctness. We’re talking about excellence. This museum is a more excellent museum because of the [previous] Kehinde Wiley exhibition. It is a more excellent, more American museum now because of Lee Mingwei exhibition. And we need you to write even bigger checks because this institution deserves it!”


Dede Wilsey, London Breed.


LEFT: Samantha Koslow, Kathryn Lasater, Dorka Keehn. RIGHT: Max Boyer Glynn, Furio Rinaldi.


LEFT: Safiya Jihan Adams, Bakari Adams. RIGHT: Todd Traina, Katie Traina.


Andrè Bloodstone Singleton.


LEFT: Lisa Zanze, Jack Calhoun, Maryam Muduroglu. RIGHT: Komal Shah, Carolyn Chang.


April 15, 2024

Discover more PARTIES news.

Receive Updates

No spam guarantee.

Related Posts

Stay Up To Date

Subscribe to our weekly emails for the hottest openings, latest parties and in-depth interviews with the people putting California Style on the map.