The Beat Museum Turns 20!
In 2023, the Beat Museum will celebrate twenty years sharing the history, legacy, and values of the Beat Generation with the world. We first opened in Monterey in 2003, and in 2006 we moved to our current home at Broadway and Columbus in San Francisco.
What a journey it’s been—and we’ve still got lots of plans for the future.
Here’s to the next twenty years!
The Beat Museum began with a dream. My wife Estelle and I had previously owned a bookstore in downtown Monterey, California. When we would hold events at the store, we realized the ones focused on Jack Kerouac and other Beat poets and writers were extremely well attended. I had a modest collection of books and ephemera back then, and in 2003 we put some of it on display in a new storefront and The Beat Museum was born.
The week we opened The Beat Museum, our hometown newspaper ran an article about what we were doing, and that very afternoon a man walked in with a red-colored LP on the Fantasy label out of Berkeley titled Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth Live at the Cellar. I was familiar with the album, and I knew it was rare and highly coveted. I said to the man, "This is a treasure, but we just opened a few days ago and I don't have any money to buy this from you." To my surprise, he said, "I'm not looking for money. I want you to put this on your wall. This is history and it's important that future generations know about it."
The Monterey Herald article about our opening (tap for larger version).
It was in that moment I realized we were on to something.
Another milestone in the growth of The Beat Museum is a meeting I had in 2005 with Kim Greer, CEO of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. One day at lunch, Kim leaned over the table and in a conspiratorial tone said to me, "You know, The Beat Museum should be even bigger than the Steinbeck Museum." "Why do you say that?" I asked. "Look, we've got one guy. Granted, he won the Pulitzer Prize and later the Nobel, but you've got an entire movement of writers and poets. And it's not only the Beats—it’s jazz, the hippies of the 1960s, the Vietnam War…the entire counterculture. The Beat Museum should be huge, especially if you take it to San Francisco."
In 2006, we brought the Beat Museum to North Beach. Opening as a popup at Live Worms Gallery on Grant Ave, the heart of Beatdom on the West Coast, we later moved to 540 Broadway, across the Columbus intersection from City Lights Books, and it’s been our home for the last fifteen years.
In that time, we’ve greeted many thousands of visitors from all over the world, and hosted hundreds of poetry readings, book launches, panel discussions, performances, and other events, including 2015’s Beatnik Shindig—the largest gathering in the world of Beat poets, writers, scholars, and other enthusiasts in twenty years. Since the early days, the Beat Museum’s archives and collections have grown well beyond my small stash of books to now encompass a wide array of important literary and cultural artifacts, from letters and ephemera to artworks and personal effects, and everything in between.
We take pride in knowing young people visit The Beat Museum from all over the world and walk away having gained the inspiration to follow their own dreams.
Maybe you're reading this right now because the Beats changed your life, too.
The Beat Generation not only captured a pivotal period in American history, a tectonic shift in popular culture—they were also profoundly responsible for shaping it. The influence of this remarkable group of people and the movement they created remains just as relevant as ever—if not more so. When the culture of mid-century America demanded segregation, conformity, and materialism, the Beats celebrated tolerance, inclusivity, and authenticity. We think that’s pretty important, as is imparting the history, legacy, and values of the Beat Generation to future generations.
We look forward to celebrating our twentieth year throughout 2023.
To all our friends—everyone who’s ever bought a ticket, bought a book, come to an event, become a member, and supported what we do in ways large or small—thank you for sharing this amazing journey with us. Your ongoing support is crucial and most appreciated.
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