Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman

An exhibition celebrating the legacy of one of San Francisco’s most beloved benefactors and founder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
September 18, 2014–October 2016

(San Francisco, CA, July 21, 2014) Born into a prominent California family, Warren Hellman (1934–2011) created his own enduring legacy in business, culture, and philanthropy. Described by The Bay Citizen as a “Republican who supported labor unions, an investment banker whose greatest joy was playing songs of the working class in a bluegrass band,” Hellman was a distinctly San Franciscan iconoclast and uniquely Jewish figure.

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman, a new exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) opening September 18, 2014, celebrates the life of one of San Francisco’s greatest and most beloved benefactors. Hellman was a man of eclectic interests and passions who formed friendships with a wide variety of people from all parts of society. A true original, he was an investment banker, philanthropist, musician, and music enthusiast who believed in the importance of community arts. Among a host of business and philanthropic accomplishments, Hellman may now be best recognized for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (HSB), which he founded in 2001. Held annually in Golden Gate Park, the free festival draws more than 700,000 people. In Hellman’s own words, he hoped HSB would be a space of a few days where “everyone could get along.”

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman will center on video footage from HSB’s archive of live performances—making many hours available to the general public for the first time. Special, resonant personal objects will also be included—such as Hellman’s Star-of-David rhinestone studded jacket and a banjo signed by HSB headliners—along with HSB ephemera.

“Warren Hellman and the Bluegrass Festival he bequeathed to the city of San Francisco are true local icons,” says Lori Starr, The CJM’s Executive Director. “Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman will allow visitors to immerse themselves in the spirit of the Festival, as an expression of the joy Hellman received from giving to others and the city he loved, and in a Museum he helped shape.”

The Exhibition

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman will be on display in The CJM’s soaring Stephen and Maribelle Leavitt Yud Gallery, a dramatic space dedicated to sound installations and music-based exhibitions. At the heart of the exhibition are many hours of HSB video footage available to the public for the first time. The archival footage will be presented one Festival day and one stage at a time. Screenings will be listed on The Museum’s website so that visitors can catch their favorite performers, revisit sets they loved, or see for the first time those they may have missed.

The exhibition also offers listening stations with previously unavailable audio of almost every set from the Festival. Visitors can leaf through HSB’s Festival scrapbooks featuring Festival staff’s own snapshots of performers and faces in the crowd. Images of bulletin board-style panels that Festival staff assembled to commemorate Warren Hellman’s life with notes, lists, images, and more will be projected in the gallery.

HSB ephemera will be on view, as well as several personal items, including the Star-of-David rhinestone studded jacket made by Hellman’s granddaughter Laurel and given to him just before his set with his band, The Wronglers, on the tenth anniversary of HSB. Hellman’s banjo will also be on view—a gift from several performers including Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris, and Hazel Dickens. The back of the banjo is signed by these Festival headliners, and more.

Warren Hellman

Warren Hellman was born in New York City in 1934 and grew up in Vacaville and San Francisco, CA. He was the great-grandson of Isaias W. Hellman, the president of Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. Hellman was a graduate of Lowell High School in San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley (1955), and Harvard Business School (1959).

Hellman was a pioneer in the private equity business. After a distinguished career on Wall Street, he co-founded Hellman & Friedman in 1984 with Tully Friedman, and built it into one of the industry’s leading private equity firms. Prior to that, Hellman was a general partner of Boston-based venture capital firm Hellman, Ferri Investment Associates, today known as Matrix Partners. Hellman also worked at Lehman Brothers, where he served as President as well as head of the Investment Banking Division.

Hellman was a noted philanthropist with strong roots in a wide variety of local causes and a supporter of organizations large and small, standard and surprising. He was an active participant within the Bay Area community and gave generously of his time and experience to make a difference. His extraordinary generosity touched the lives of many. Hellman served as a past Chairman and Trustee Emeritus of The San Francisco Foundation and was a well-known contributor to St. Anthony’s Foundation, Golden Gate Park, and the San Francisco Free Clinic. He was an avid proponent of public education and was a proud public school graduate himself. When he was Chair of the San Francisco Foundation, he convened the San Francisco School Alliance bringing the business community and funders to support and partner with the San Francisco Unified School District. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation. Hellman was also a contributor to the UC Berkeley aquatics program where he helped endow the Men’s Water Polo Program, and instituted the Hellman Fellows Program at the University of California. In addition to serving the community at large, Hellman was also a member of the Board of Directors & Executive Committee for the Jewish Community Federation and Chair of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund. He was Founder and Chairman of the Board of The Bay Citizen, a non-profit local news organization, and a Trustee Emeritus of the Brookings Institution.

Hellman had a deep love of music, none more than bluegrass, the appreciation of which he always said was “hard-wired.” Later in his life, he became an accomplished 5-string banjo player, and had an old-time band called The Wronglers with whom he performed all over the US. Hellman was the Founder and principal sponsor of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 2005, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Hellman and his wife Chris, a former dancer, were generous supporters of the arts, including the San Francisco Ballet, where Chris chaired the Board for many years and helped make the San Francisco Ballet one of the leading ballet companies in the world today. Hellman also supported San Francisco’s ODC contemporary dance company and served as Chairman of Voice of Dance.

Hellman played an active role in civic affairs in San Francisco and California. Dedicated to the well-being of San Francisco citizens, he served as a board member of the Committee on JOBS, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and Bay Area Council.

Hellman was also an accomplished endurance athlete and skier. He twice completed the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile foot race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA, and five times completed the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse race over the same course. He was also a five-time National Champion in Ride and Tie (combination of cross-country running and endurance horseback riding) in his age group and a varsity athlete in Water Polo at UC Berkeley. Hellman was an avid skier throughout his life and was an accomplished national caliber master ski racer. He served as president of the U.S. Ski Team in the late 1970's.

Hellman had his Bar Mitzvah with his daughter at the age of seventy-five. He died two years later at the age of seventy-seven in December 2011. He ensured that HSB would continue, leaving an endowment for its continuation for 15 years. After his death, Hellman was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who officially renamed Golden Gate Park’s Speedway Meadow, the location of the annual Festival, to Hellman Hollow.

Exhibition Credits

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Major sponsorship for this exhibition is provided by Osterweis Capital Management. Additional generous support is provided by the Carla and David Crane Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and the Hellman Family.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation.

Related Programming

Third Thursdays Live at The CJM
Free with Museum admission; $5 after 5pm

On select Thursdays, Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman will be activated through live music, featuring bands and acts that have performed over the years at HSB.

Sonny Smith
Thursday, Oct 16 | 7–9pm

Sonny Smith is a Bay Area artist, writer, and singer-songwriter. He has played at HSB with his band The Sunsets.

Eric and Suzy Thompson
Thursday, Nov 20 | 7–8pm

Eric and Suzy are devotees of obscure old-time American music. Using fiddle, mandolin, Cajun accordion and more, they bring early twentieth century sounds into the present.

On select Thursdays, Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman will be activated through live music, featuring bands and acts that have performed over the years at HSB.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by an Anonymous Donor; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Gaia Fund; Denise Garone and Stuart A. Kogod; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; the Hellman Family; Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Osterweis Capital Management; Alison Gelb Pincus and Mark Pincus; the Seiger Family Foundation; Ruth and Alan Stein; Roselyne Chroman Swig; and Anita and Ronald Wornick.

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at thecjm.org.

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Nina Sazevich
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General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 11am–8pm. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $10 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information on The Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit The Museum’s website at thecjm.org or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth streets), San Francisco.





736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 11am–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 | info@thecjm.org