Cary McClelland is the Chief Operating Officer at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco, and, before that, he was a civil rights lawyer and an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He brings to his teaching a global experience of conflict resolution and a personal understanding of the role of storytelling in dispute resolution.
As a New York attorney, Cary worked primarily in defense of the freedom of expression and other civil rights, advancing prominent cases related to election misinformation, digital privacy rights, and disparities arising from Covid-19. He defended journalists and artists in various First Amendment suits, including Buzzfeed’s publication of the Christopher Steele dossier. He represented clients who fought to protect the private information of online users from government seizure and challenged the Trump administration’s travel ban against Muslim-majority countries. Most recently, he led a team of lawyers representing New York individuals and organizations who fought on behalf of communities disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 in their action against the federal health agencies for their statutory failures during the pandemic.
Prior to the law, Cary spent the first part of his career working on human rights and conflict resolution initiatives throughout the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He trained former child soldiers to be journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, worked alongside opposition activists in Zimbabwe, and collaborated on advocacy campaigns in Egypt, Syria, and Myanmar. He has a particular interest in traditional and restorative conflict transformation processes, and so has studied and supported the United Nations truth commission in East Timor and tribal courts in sub-Saharan Africa. Working with Witness and Google, he founded and launched a Webby-Award-winning media channel highlighting and protecting the work of citizen journalists around the world.
Alongside these efforts, Cary has continued to document and bring to life stories of people persisting in turbulent times. His award-winning film, Without Shepherds, centers the lives of six people fighting against extremism in Pakistan, including the nation’s current Prime Minister Imran Khan as he launched his political party. Cary’s recent book Silicon City tells the story of San Francisco transformed by the tech industry and the new American economy through portraits of its citizens, past and present; it was chosen as one of Stanford University’s Three Books of 2019. He is a frequently invited speaker on topics of media, technology, democracy, rule of law and storytelling.