Several years after a mini-scandal and subsequent shakeup on the board of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), which had led to some talk of a change in leadership, museum queen bee and general SF society character Dede Wilsey has been replaced.
The museums' board voted this afternoon to have 42-year-old hedge fund manager and five-year board member Jason Moment take over as president of the museums, and also as chair of the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums. Wilsey will serve on both bodies as "chair emerita," a title that she tells Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais is "more mature" and an "elevation" from her current role.
I hardly expect anyone who hasn't been kicking around SF for a decade or more to know or care who Wilsey is, that is unless you're an attendee of museum fundraisers and opera and symphony openings, where she regularly holds court. SFist dutifully covered the 2016 scandal-ette in which she was embroiled, back in those innocent months before Trump was elected and everyone realized we had bigger fish to fry. In that drama, Wilsey was apparently caught improperly cutting a check to a longtime friend and aide, an employee of the museums whose husband had fallen ill — it was characterized as a rushed retirement of sorts for the husband, also a museum employee, amounting to $450,000, without board approval. The situation prompted a state-level non-profit ethics probe and a couple of board resignations, and a premature announcement that Wilsey might step down as board president — something she vehemently and immediately squelched. Via special sessions of the museums' board, Wilsey maintained her role in September 2016 in what critics characterized as her "personal fiefdom." The drama even prompted a fairly campy New York Times profile portraying Wilsey as a "defiant socialite," clutching her two Malteses on the sun porch of her Napa retreat.
Wilsey is an heiress to the Dow Chemical fortune and the widow of real estate magnate Al Wilsey. In addition to being a generous benefactor of the arts, Wilsey is locally famous for spearheading the $206 million capital campaign to build the new deYoung Museum in 2005, and for being the wicked stepmother portrayed in Sean Wilsey's 2006 memoir, Oh, The Glory of It All.
In Jason Moment, Wilsey has apparently found a suitable successor whom she can mold — it seems clear from the 2016 incident that she would not have allowed herself to be replaced unless it was with her blessing.
Desmarais says that "Moment cited his financial background and different circle of contacts as complementary to the things that, he said, Wilsey provides: generous donations, certainly, but also talents." Says Moment, "None of us want her to step away. She is integral to the museum."