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How much does it cost to move and install priceless artworks? At least $3 million

Christopher Bedford gives a speech and welcomes new citizens in front of Diego Rivera's mural "Pan-American Unity" at the SFMOMA. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

“Impossible projects need experienced hands,” reads the tagline of Oakland’s Atthowe Fine Art Services. They also need a lot of money, as made evident by recent city contracts analyzed by the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Atthowe Fine Art Services, a family-owned cooperative business, has six active contracts with the city that in total have a not-to-exceed amount of $3.1 million. The contracts started on or after July 1, 2017.  

The multi-million-dollar sum is among the highest associated with SF’s Arts Commission but certainly not the highest—that would be the more than $7 million in estimated contracts the city has with the San Francisco Symphony. SOMArts, the African American Art & Culture Complex and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts also benefit from city money, with all of these organizations having contract totals in the $4 to $5 million range. 

Yet unlike most of the organizations listed under the city’s contracts with the Arts Commission, Atthowe Fine Art Services is not a major institution. It is a transportation service. 

Atthowe performs a delicate and difficult job—shuttling priceless art objects across great distances—that is both time-consuming and costly. When reached for a response to this story, Atthowe declined to comment.

In 2004, the company installed a monumental statue, El Rey, at the City College of San Francisco. A gift from the Governor of Veracruz to Harry Parker, then-director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The installation process of the 9-foot-high, 14-ton Olmec head was so labor-intensive a documentary was made about it. 

According to William Maynez, who worked with Atthowe, Parker said the movers were the very best around. 

Atthowe was the subject of yet another documentary, "Diego Rivera: Moving a Masterpiece," when the company worked to de-install the famed Mexican muralist’s fresco, Pan-American Unity, and mount it at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 

“CEO Bryan Cain’s comments capture the nail-biting in moving such a priceless masterpiece,” said Maynez, who serves as the steward of the Rivera mural in partnership with SFMOMA and City College. “The mural deserved the best care and got it from Atthowe.” 

While it may be impossible to put a price on the art that the company moves, the contracts have a tangible—if surprising—cost.

Julie Zigoris can be reached at