Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman

Born into a prominent California family, Warren Hellman created his own enduring legacy in business, culture, and philanthropy. His fortune largely self-made, Warren was known for his keen ability to identify talented people. He established two of America’s premier private equity firms and aided the creation of a large number of successful alternative investment management firms across the US. He is best remembered for his philanthropy and his iconoclastic approach to life. An endurance athlete who competed in long distance running and horseback riding competitions, he was also a 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 festival draws more than 700,000 people.
The Bay Citizen—a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and innovative news organization of which Hellman was a founder—described him as a “Republican who supported labor unions, an investment banker whose greatest joy was playing songs of the working class in a bluegrass band.” This paradoxical identity made Hellman, who became a Bar Mitzvah with his daughter at the age of seventy-five, a distinctly San Francisco, and uniquely Jewish, figure.

Extending public access to the arts, celebrating and strengthening community, and focusing on the impact of music and storytelling are the starting points for this important project. Visitors will gain a greater understanding of Hellman’s philanthropic philosophy, business acumen, and his dedication—shared by The CJM—to active engagement in community, collaboration, and a commitment to artists.

Hardly Strictly Warren will center on film footage from the festival’s archive of live performances at HSB—making 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 signed banjo—along with festival ephemera and a station for exploring his well-loved joke collection.

Quoted as saying, “‘Monet or a festival?’ if you had the money, which would you rather own?,” Hardly Strictly Warren allows visitors to immerse themselves within the spirit of the festival, as an expression of the joy Hellman received from giving to others and the city he loved.

Rich public programs will highlight the musical, artistic, and philanthropic threads of Hellman’s life. This project will explore roots and bluegrass music, diverse cultural traditions in the Bay Area, and the insistence on social justice and the democratization of culture that was so central to the philanthropic and musical legacy of one of San Francisco’s greatest and most beloved benefactors.


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