Paper sailboats moving in formation.
Leadership Published Date, 2023

Partner Feature | Leading Through Stabilization And Change With Sara Fenske Bahat, CEO of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Created By: Adam Glick
January 9, 2023

Orr Group and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) have been in partnership since the Fall of 2021. What began as a development assessment to evaluate fundraising needs and opportunities has evolved into a multi-layered partnership, including database implementation and training, fundraising support, and strategic planning around key initiatives for the organization.

Most recently, Sara Fenske Bahat, YBCA’s CEO, spoke with Orr Group’s Adam Glick, Senior Director, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of going from Board Member to CEO. In this interview blog post, Sara shares insights into her work and how stabilizing the organization in which she is so invested has brought about new and exciting possibilities, challenges, and opportunities for collaboration.  

Adam Glick: Thanks for making time to speak with me today, Sara. I know I’m not the only one to celebrate the announcement that you will serve as YBCA’s CEO in a more permanent capacity. Will you tell us more about how you came to YBCA?

Sara Fenske Bahat: I’ve been getting a lot of “you have such an interesting resume” lately! I came into the YBCA orbit as a Fellow in early 2016, part of a cohort focused on Freedom, in my case economic freedom. At the time, I was teaching economics at California College of the Arts (where immediately prior to coming to YBCA full-time, I served as chair of the MBA in Design Strategy program), really focused on several years of research I was conducting on how different types of families “do” money. I moved to San Francisco from New York in 2007 and think of this as my recovery from banking period. The YBCA Fellows program asked us each to present creative work publicly, something I had not done since high school. It was a hugely impactful challenge for me, one that really cemented this strong opinion I have that ideas and culture in conversation truly accelerate change. 

Adam Glick: How would you describe the difference in your leadership between that of a Board member, then Interim CEO, and now, CEO?

Sara Fenske Bahat: One answer for me was to double down on YBCA. I joined the board in 2017, became Board Chair in 2020, and then accepted this appointment in January 2022, which just became permanent. 

Adam Glick: Coming out of the pandemic, you’re leading YBCA at a critical point in its history to re-engage its local community, while thinking bigger and more broadly about how and where YBCA is positioned in the field generally. What would you say is your focus for the institution now, and if we were to have this conversation a year from now?

Sara Fenske Bahat: After the 2016 election, my husband and I hosted a post-Election, day-long (taco truck and all) gathering for our friends that we called “Bowling Together.” We understood that one of the core themes of American life has been isolation and that we needed to come together differently. We ended that day asking 100 of our closest friends what they could commit to doing to increase their engagement and impact. In that same vein, I see YBCA as a public resource and creative home for artists, changemakers, and communities who are actively working towards a more equitable future. A huge part of that requires our insides to match our outsides. Most days I’m talking to people about why our work is so important now and why we need to be in it together. It might not sound serious, but it is: one of my first and foremost requirements in seeking collaborators to join me on this journey has always been “fun.” If you can’t find joy in running an arts center in downtown San Francisco, you’re not doing it right. I think this is why Orr Group is an effective partner. You guys are fun, and you understand the hurdles and opportunities that an organization like YBCA faces as it seeks to realize its full potential at this important moment in [the institution’s] – and our [collective] – history.  

Adam Glick: You and I often discuss how one can’t truly look forward without reflecting on the past. What are the more impactful takeaways for you personally over the last two or so years as you think about your leadership of YBCA?

Sara Fenske Bahat: We are now in a generative moment at YBCA, one that draws on what we know we do well and one where we need to improve. A big part of our fundraising effort is around our desire to continually engage our community so that we can be responsive through our exhibitions, activities, thought leadership, and dialogues. I feel fortunate that over the last year, we have had the chance to think intently and intensively about who we are and who we can be. I’m excited for others to join us and show their support for what I truly think is one of the most innovative and exciting programs anywhere.

Adam Glick: If you had to describe YBCA in three words, what would they be?

Sara Fenske Bahat: Full. Of. Potential.

To learn more about YBCA, please see its calendar of events, and stay current with in-depth interviews, videos, and announcements on YBCA’s Zine. You can also subscribe to YBCA’s newsletter for the organization’s latest news, events, and experiences.

We love partnering with nonprofits that are driven by ambition and vision. Get in touch today to learn how we can help your organization reach new heights.

Headshot of Adam Glick.

Adam Glick is a Senior Director at Orr Group and helps lead the firm’s partnership with YBCA.

Related Resources