Fort Mason Center: Urban Place Leader

My recent visit of the Fort Mason Center, reminded me of its beauty, vibrancy, sustainable urban design, activated public spaces, and economic vitality. The Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture is located on a previous military base with 3 piers alongside the bay in the Marina District of San Francisco.

The center now serves the artistic community by hosting artistic events that bring 2.5 million annual visitors, providing $2.5 million in annual grants, housing nearly 2 dozen arts organizations, and providing fantastic food and drink. The center’s success has made it a pioneer in rehabilitating military bases and is a leader in sustainable urban places.

It has recently redesigned and upgraded its streetscape to include better pedestrian access into the center, a simpler access for vehicles, sustainable storm water treatment, and a paid parking section to increase revenue.

I had the opportunity to interview the Chair of the Fort Mason Center’s Board of Trustees, Jim Chappell, about how the organization strategically positions itself for success. Check it out:

Which is most important to the Fort Mason Center—mission, core values or vision?

Is this a trick question? Because they are all important. But of course it is the nesting of the three that is important…we all know the right answer to the wrong question is still wrong. 

What’s the timing and sequence? You better know your overall mission before you get into details. Also different people in the organization can focus in different places.

What strategic process does Fort Mason use to solve complex challenges?

  • Cast a wide net
  • Consider all options 
  • Sleep on it. 
  • Don’t get all excited (the more of a crisis something appears to be, the more to let things cool a few days).
  • If you stall awhile, most problems work themselves out
  • Then pull the trigger decisively

What’s Fort Mason’s strategy to develop successful partnerships?

I am trying to build a true partnership with all our various diverse organizations, and with our neighbors. A true partnership means shared responsibilities and shared authorities, which is hard to get to. It’s been a theme in my life for forty years, and sometimes it has worked better than others. But I am convinced it is right and I will continue working on it. Check back in five years.

If there was one area that the organization needed improvement, what would it be?

Better marketing. Everyone knows Fort Mason, but mostly as an address not as a non-profit organization that provides subsidized space, services and programs so our arts partners can concentrate on why they do best -arts – not just fundraising. 

What advice would you give other non-profits that are trying to accomplish something similar to what the Fort Mason Center is doing?

Do great work and tell everyone what you are doing.