CMATO Founder and Board Director Michael Yee Passes Away

The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO) announced the death of Michael Hing Yee, the founder of CMATO. He was 79 years old.

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Mr. Yee’s vision led to the creation of a multifaceted arts institution devoted to education and presentation of the visual arts.

“Michael has been a very big part of CMATO since its inception and has dedicated much of his time towards beautifying the property and doing some of the hard work behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis. Michael will be sorely missed,” said Tony Principe, Chairman of the Board at CMATO.

Michael Yee was a renaissance man. His life was filled with a zeal for exploration, mastery of the arts and all things creative, and he believed in the interconnectedness of all mankind and the practice of genuine philanthropy.

Born in Canton, China, raised in Seattle and descendent of thirty-two generations of Chinese heritage, Yee’s artistic passions were channeled into painting, sculpture, ceramics and art history at the University of Washington in Seattle where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1961. Boeing Company quickly scooped him up and put him to work as the art director on the Apollo mission designing and illustrating the technical manuals that traveled through space to the moon with the first astronauts.  Like his father and grandfather, both restaurateurs before him, Yee owned and operated the Newbury Park restaurant he named “China Fresh” from 1990 – 2003. He also worked for the City of Thousand Oaks designing and installing landscaping including the Ventu Park reservoir project.

Consumed by the vision and an entrepreneur’s driving energy, Yee formed his own 501(c)(3) corporation with the State of California in 2008 and funded it with $75,000 of his own money to build a Glass and Sculpture Museum. In what Yee called the “spirit of synchronicity” Yee learned of the Conejo/Las Virgenes Future Foundation study validating the need and desire of the area’s citizens to build a regional museum of the visual arts. After several meetings, Yee joined forces with the committee and reallocated his funds to support the creation of a regional art museum – now called the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO).

Yee’s vision for CMATO continues as the museum is fast becoming part of the social fabric of Conejo Valley region by providing educational, enlightening experiences that are affordable. The museum creates cultural opportunities that are both an enduring community asset and an economic engine for the region.

 “Our hearts are broken to lose such a wonderful man.  Mike was part of CMATO and we are in shock that he left us so soon. He had a heart of gold and inspired us all,” said Tish Greenwood, Executive Director of CMATO.

Yee’s art filled home in Thousand Oaks, where he lived with his wife May, and where they raised their two children, Melodee and Michael Jr., is the site of a sprawling vegetable garden with fruit trees as well as a large art and ceramic studio of his own building and design.

An afternoon memorial service for Michael Yee is planned on November 19, 2017 at Calvary Community Church. In lieu of flowers, Yee’s family would like to have tribute donations made to California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks, as it was such a big part of Michael’s life.

About CMATO:

CMATO is a non-profit organization committed to becoming part of the social fabric of the Conejo Valley region by providing educational, and enlightening experiences that are affordable. The City of Thousand Oaks is committed to supporting CMATO at the Civic Arts Plaza as part of their goal to have a vibrant arts community.

California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks ▪   Website:

▪ 1948 Thousand Oaks Blvd.▪ Thousand Oaks, CA  91362

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