After 36 Years, Founder of City Arts & Lectures Retires

City Arts & Lectures longtime leader Sydney Goldstein (right) is retiring after 36 years at the helm of the San Francisco-based public talks presenter. Here she is with one of her main collaborators on the Nourse Theater renovation project, contractor Moti Kazemi.  (Drew Altizer)

After nearly four decades, the founder and longtime director of San Francisco-based City Arts & Lectures is retiring.

Since founding the non-profit organization in 1980, Sydney Goldstein brought an array of A-list public figures to Bay Area audiences -- initially at the College of Marin, then the Herbst Theatre, and in more recent times, the renovated Nourse Theater.

Roxane Gay, Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, Tom Wolfe, Ta Nehisi-Coates and Edward Snowden are just a few names among the many to have appeared in San Francisco under the auspices of City Arts & Lectures over the years.

Goldstein also cultivated a roster of well-versed interviewers, including journalist Steven Winn and writer-publisher Dave Eggers.

Steven Winn (journalist:author and frequent City Arts & Lecturers interviewer) and Sydney Goldstein confer before Winn interviews Tina Fey.
Steven Winn (journalist:author and frequent City Arts & Lecturers interviewer) and Sydney Goldstein confer before Winn interviews Tina Fey. (Photo: Aubrie Pick)

One of Goldstein’s major achievements in recent years was the renovation of the 1,689-seat Nourse Theater in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. With an annual operating budget of $1.5 million, the organization produces around 60 events at the venue a year.

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Earlier in her tenure, Goldstein developed an enduring partnership with KQED. The ongoing, co-produced City Arts radio broadcasts can be heard on nearly 120 stations around the country today.

"Sydney has very strong and definite opinions," says Nina Thorsen, the KQED producer responsible for repackaging City Arts events for broadcast since 1999. "She has the ability to jump into anybody's conversation about anything and ask good questions."

Kate Goldstein-Breyer & Holly Mulder-Wollan at City Arts & Lectures production office in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.
Kate Goldstein-Breyer & Holly Mulder-Wollan at City Arts & Lectures production office in Pacific Heights, San Francisco. (Photo: Courtesy of City Arts & Lectures)

Longtime City Arts employees Holly Mulder-Wollan and Kate Goldstein-Breyer -- the latter being Sydney Goldstein’s daughter -- will be the organization's new co-directors. Goldstein will continue on as a consultant, mainly providing curatorial advice to the new leadership, Goldstein-Breyer says.

"The business is in a good place, and financially, things are healthy," Goldstein-Breyer says. "Sydney could feel good about handing things off to Holly and me."

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