John Buchanan has been the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor since 2005.
His five-year plan has led to extended hours and more than 26 major exhibitions leading to the de Young being the most visited museum in the West.
Who had the biggest influence on you in your life? My parents. I am an only child of older parents. We did not take adventuresome or athletic vacations. Instead, I was taken to museums and historic sites. By the time I was 12, I had been to every historic site south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Where do you find inspiration? I am passionate about art and have always found inspiration in beautiful objects and works of art. Having been an early museum-goer, today I am mobilized by the response of museum visitors of all ages to our collections and special exhibitions. There have been moments over the past several years when I thought to myself, “Oh, to be 8 years old again and visit King Tut, I would have rolled on the ground in ecstasy!”</p>
To whom do you turn to in tough times? My wife. She is the smartest and most beautiful person I know.
What one book or piece of writing has had a large impact on you? I never met a biography I didn’t love. However, as an English literature major, I am still inspired by Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and anything by William Butler Yeats and T.S. Elliot.
What do you do as director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco? It’s all about people. Working with the family of the museums, including trustees, staff, volunteers, donors and our visitors. It’s certainly about art, but so much more.
What is one program that you instituted that you are particularly proud of? Hands down … Friday nights at the de Young! This is our multicultural-connections program serving an incredibly broad base of constituencies. Our idea has been to provide a convenient time for the general public to visit the museum and experience its programs, exhibitions and permanent collection in the most relaxed fashion. These extended hours on Friday nights also provide after-hours opportunities for visitors to experience our special exhibitions, such as masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay.
What drew you to work in museums? My passion for art and being in the right place at the right time. I am lucky that I found my métier early.
If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be doing? I would be writing a book. I have at least one in me, and it’s a thriller.