It has only been a couple of years since Bob Lehman and his husband Tom Felkner left San Diego to move to Indianapolis, but they are back in San Diego and our community is very happy to see them both come home.
Bob and Tom were the fantastic owners of Bourbon Street on Park Blvd. Who can forget one of the finest LGBTQ bars in town? Later Bob became the Executive Director of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus (2013-19). Under his leadership the organization was named Non-Profit of the Year for 2016 by the Greater San Diego Business Association. Also, in 2016 Lehman was named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the City of San Diego in honor of his service to the community.
Now Bob returns to San Diego as the new Executive Director for the San Diego Museum Council. We caught up with him and got to know what new adventures this new position and chapter in San Diego brings.
For the people that don’t know the story, please tell us why you decided to leave San Diego?
I first moved to San Diego in 1984 as a young U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. Since that time, I’ve considered San Diego to be my home, even when I was deployed to the Persian Gulf during the war or as a Marine recruiter for two years in Chicago (where I met Tom). In 2019, my 88-year-old father became seriously ill and was living by himself in Florida. So, I went to care for him, brought him back to our family home in Indiana and helped him recover before returning to San Diego this past May. He just celebrated a very healthy 90th birthday!
Everyone misses you and Tom, how excited are you guys to be back in San Diego?
We are so incredibly happy to be back home in San Diego. We missed our friends, we missed the sun, we missed the simple daily things we used to take for granted like walking through Balboa Park or along Mission Beach. Speaking with some added perspective, San Diego is truly the best city I know full of amazing, good and kind people. I am grateful to be a San Diegan.
What are you hoping to accomplish as Executive Director of the San Diego Museum Council?
I am very interested in exploring unique and creative collaborations between museums and the community, stretching the boundaries of access to allow a wider diversity of people, cultures and voices. For example, just last week I was at the closing ceremony of the “Say Their Names” memorial exhibit brought to San Diego by Gaidi Finnie of the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts. On the grounds of The New Children’s Museum, they presented a powerful and emotional tribute to Black Americans who died at the hands of those who perpetuated injustice and systemic racism, connecting to each person there with song, dance, music and spoken word.
What is in the works from the San Diego Museum Council?
One of our most fun programs of the year is Kids Free in October which, just as it sounds, allows children free access to our museums throughout the month (Halloween in museums is always especially spooky!). Kids Free is a collaboration with the amazing team from the San Diego Tourism Authority. We also present Museum Month in February, offering everyone half-price tickets, which in past years has been sponsored by and distributed at Hilton Hotels, Macy’s and libraries throughout San Diego County.
You have always been a leader of the LGBTQ community. Will you come back to any roles?
Yes, I will always look for ways to help make our LGBTQ community stronger and advance our fight for equality. Right now, I’m one of six LGBTQ representatives on the Balboa Park Cultural District Advisory Board, helping shape a future for Balboa Park that is accessible to and reflective of all diverse communities and cultures within our region.