Rita Vandergaw

Rita vandergaw

Shaping San Diego’s Cultural Landscape

In the bustling heart of San Diego’s Balboa Park, Comic-Con Museum stands as a testament to the enduring power of popular arts. This vibrant institution owes much of its success to the leadership of CEO Rita Vandergaw, whose journey from retirement to leading this venture has been nothing short of remarkable.

Rita’s journey to the helm of Comic-Con Museum began as a volunteer on the museum’s Steering Committee. At the time, she was fully retired, having enjoyed a distinguished career as the head of the Port of San Diego’s Cruise Program and marketing departments at major airlines. It was Rita’s passion for travel and tourism that initially drew her to the project, seeing the museum as a unique attraction that could enhance San Diego’s reputation as a premier travel and tourism destination.

“I truly never envisioned this role at this stage of my life, but I have to say, all my past experiences have perhaps been the path leading me to this opportunity,” Rita shared with GB Magazine.
One of Rita’s most significant achievements has been overseeing the museum’s successful opening. She recalls the exceptional effort required to meet a tight deadline, which involved the construction, building painting, roof replacement and the curation of seven exhibits in under four months. This incredible feat was made possible by the unwavering support of the Steering Committee, the Committee of 100, the City of San Diego, and countless volunteers who worked tirelessly to bring the vision to life.

The museum’s role in Balboa Park is also a testament to Rita’s vision. As the newest addition to the park’s 17 museums, Comic-Con Museum extends the brand’s reach and attracts more visitors to this cultural hub. Rita envisions it as a catalyst for increasing awareness of Balboa Park’s rich arts and cultural community, making it a “must-see” destination.

One aspect Rita takes immense pride in is the museum’s diverse range of exhibits and educational programs. With no permanent collection, the museum has introduced 17 different exhibits in less than two years, covering everything from comics and graphic novels to animation and science fiction. “We are celebrating the popular arts in all their forms,” Rita says, highlighting how the museum’s dynamic offerings showcase the evolution of popular arts over time.
Community engagement is also at the forefront of Rita’s initiatives. The collaboration with Feeding San Diego stands out as a shining example. The museum hosted a contest for K-12 students to design a hunger-fighting hero, emphasizing the importance of addressing food insecurity. The response was overwhelming, with over 400 entries and 12 finalists featured in an exhibit at the museum’s Education Center. The initiative not only garnered local attention but spread nationwide, demonstrating how the popular arts can inspire positive action in the community.


Rita Vandergaw’s leadership at Comic-Con Museum has been nothing short of transformative. Under her guidance, the museum has become a vibrant hub for popular arts, education and community engagement, enhancing San Diego’s cultural landscape in the process. Her journey from retirement to this pivotal role is a testament to the unexpected paths that can lead to outstanding achievements.


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Esteban Villanueva