Council members back new rules for Cubberley artists

City Council committee agrees to impose term limits on artists leasing studios at community center

Seeking to turn a collection of artist studios at Cubberley Community Center into a vibrant and diverse cultural destination, a committee of Palo Alto City Council members agreed on Tuesday to revamp a long-standing system for renting spaces at the sprawling campus.

The new guidelines include a maximum of two four-year terms for artists renting the 23 studio spaces at Cubberley and a process for ending the city's arrangement with artists who have long relied on the subsidized rent. Incumbents who have been at Cubberley for 10 years or more will be allowed to reapply for one two-year term. Those who have been there for more than five but less than 10 years could apply for a three-year term. Those who have been there up to five years can apply for a four-year term.

All applications would be considered by a jury, which would consider criteria such as "creative excellence or potential for creative excellence," an artist's exhibition history, contribution that the artists would make toward the program's goals and Palo Alto residency (which would be preferred but not required). Staff also plans to greatly expand this spring its outreach effort to attract applicants, with the goal of bringing in between 60 and 90 applications per round (currently the number ranges from 20 to 40). According to a staff report, the goals are to increase the number of applicants "from diverse stages in their careers," "from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds," and from different types of artists and artistic disciplines, "including those outside the traditionally visual arts spectrum."

Ultimately, the city hopes to raise the profile of the artist community and turn it into a cultural destination featuring concerts, art crawls, film screenings and a "Cultural Cafe," a public place offering food, drink and different artist programs. The cafe would be located at the former Jewelry Studio.

"What we want to do is create a place that's dynamic -- a place where the community can come to engage and really participate," said Rhyena Halpern, assistant director of the city's Community Services Department. "A place where you can have coffee and tea and snacks and also look at the Cubberley artists' work."

Halpern also noted, however, that many artists don't feel that term limits "are not necessary" and observed that residents who have been at the community center for more than a decade "will be affected very dramatically."

The council's Policy and Services Committee supported the staff recommendation by a 3-0 vote, with Greg Scharff absent, that artists renting studio space at Cubberley be limited to two four-year terms. Members said they were excited by the prospect of bringing new energy into Cubberley's artist space. Councilman Greg Schmid said he was interested in having the programs at the studios be "more interconnected with the community."

"It could become a magnet for people to come to – a place where artists could sell their products or make them available to the public," Schmid said.

Committee Chair Gail Price generally supported the effort, but challenged a staff proposal that would have reduced the eligibility of those who've been at Cubberley for 15 or more years to a single one-year term.

"I understand the intention in terms of broadening the net and having different people, different experiences, different ages," Price said.

At the same time, she said she was concerned that artists "with the most experience and wisdom over time, who've been really important parts of this community, have very narrow windows."

She recommended eliminating this category and allowing every veteran artist to apply for at least a two-year term, a suggestion that both Klein and Schmid accepted with no argument. Klein, who last month criticized staff's earlier proposal to give Cubberley's incumbents a chance to apply for two more terms, said he was "very pleased" with the revised process, which he called "elegantly simple."

Not everyone was as thrilled about the change. Marguerite Fletcher, an artist who has long been leasing space at Cubberley, said she was disappointed with the council's decision to create term limits. The "longevity factor," she said, "is a big part of the power of this program and what makes it unique and prestigious."

She noted that six artists have recently given notice that they won't be applying for a new lease. Two or three others, including herself, also don't plan to participate in the next jury process, Fletcher said.

The revised guidelines, including the new term limits, are now set to go to the full City Council for approval.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I've walked by those studios many times and I've only seen thing being discarded next to their doors. It's as vibrant as a self-storage facility.

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Posted by Leon Kaplan
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2014 at 7:25 am

I am appalled by the staff recommendations regarding the Cubberley Artist Studio Program (cutely reduced to the bureaucratic acronym CUSP.) If I understand the recommendations that have been presented to the Policy and Services Committee the method for turning “a collection of artist studios at Cubberley Community Center into a vibrant and diverse cultural destination” is to cast out current artists after they have served a defined time limit. So if Picasso or Van Gogh or Jackson Pollock were Cubberley artists and had reached the end of their allowed time at Cubberley they would no longer be allowed to rent space at Cubberley. Exactly how does this support the notion of creating a vibrant cultural destination? It seems to me that artists, regardless of their longevity, who are able to succeed at the jury process, should be awarded use of the limited space. That ensures that the best of the best are retained in Palo Alto and will continue to be nurtured by the City, which is consistent with the original vision for the Cubberley studios.

I am also struck by Staff’s comment that the staggered jurying process (presumably still in place) “proved challenging for the limited staff to manage.” When I had oversight for Cubberley it was in addition to my many other responsibilities. I never found the Studio Program or the staggered jurying process to be particularly onerous. I am doubtful that “limited staff” (which is always the first complaint one hears from City employees) is a legitimate reason to change a process which has worked well for nearly fourteen years.

Finally, I take issue with the idea of creating a café to assist in making Cubberley a “cultural destination,” and, adding insult to injury, requiring the artists to volunteer in support of the café. The artists should be left alone to make their art. They should not be regarded as monkeys in a zoo whose role it is to attract visitors.
I do hope the City Council reconsiders its support of the Staff recommendations. I believe the Staff can do better; that the Council should be better; and that the City of Palo Alto will be the better for it should the recommendations presented in the Staff report be summarily rejected.

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Posted by Leonardo da Vinci
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 27, 2014 at 7:40 am

Leon--where to begin on your diatribe.
First of all you are not a resident of Palo Alto. This is a Palo Alto affair and the local taxpayers should have the say, not a former disgruntled cubberly employee.
Are you actually comparing these never-will-be "artists" with Picasso, Van Gogh and Pollack?  These "artists" have been sponging off the city for too long. the staff is right to set up a plan where new artists have the opportunity to use the available space and replace some of the long-term "artists" that have set up permanent shop there.
And what is wrong with requiring the "artists" that are enjoying such a great deal from giving back something in return? or do they posses they possess an "artistic" temperament that revolves only around themselves. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by green bean
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2014 at 10:37 am

I agree with Leonardo...........!

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Posted by commenter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2014 at 10:42 am

This is idiotic and arbitrary. If an artist is still active and producing fine work why should he/she be kicked out. In fact such people could serve as role models/advisers etc to younger/newer occupants. I mean, how many really good artists really exist in Palo Alto anyway?

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Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:04 am

On the face of it, I don't find the changes to be problematic, however it would be useful if the article mentioned cost of the leases.

If they want more artists to apply each round, a bit more information would be useful.

Last time I looked, emerging artists weren't "rolling in the dough" as the saying goes.

That may be why the applications are fewer than the council would like to see.

And is the jurying process pricey as well? An artist can spend a fair amount of money just applying for possibilities and that money is then unavailable for necessary materials and other life demands.

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Posted by Sponge Bob
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:58 am

@ Leonardo,

Great idea, let's put a big wall up around Palo Alto and only let people who own property here have any input into anything that goes on here. (You might want to check the constitution before you do that, though.)

And it's also a great idea to toss out, wholesale, the considered opinion of a veteran member of the artist community at Cubberly, because after all he's just a grubby "artist" (and it's important to sanitize that term with quotation marks, in case it rubs off on you. You don't want to get any of that on you).

Palo Alto might well look to the artists' community at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco for a model. It's the largest artists' colony in the country, and many distinguished artists established themselves with a foothold there. That community has survived despite several attempts to re-purpose the property, and is now in a position to become one of the most important and vital incubators for emerging as well as established artists in the country as the shipyard moves toward redevelopment that includes working space for artists displaced by the development process. Numerous well-known artists now have studios there, including people like Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

It's also worth keeping in mind that artists Pollock and Van Gogh were pretty much frowned upon as crazy when they were making major artistic inroads. Or maybe the were just "sponging" off of the good will of anyone who was willing to support them. I don't know, you decide.

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Posted by Leonardo da Vinci
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Sponge bob- glad to see another non- resident telling us what we should or should not do with our property. And you hit the nail exactly on the head-- a veteran member, I.e. someone who has been there for years, I assume. The city wants to replace these veteran members with some new artists. Artists that have been blocked from cubberly by these veteran members. Nothing wrong with some change-- except if it means that a veteran member will have to move on. Sorry, bob, nothing wrong with the councils decision or their reasons for doing this.

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Posted by Ben
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Why destroy a system that has worked? I love the artist open houses at Cubberly; I'm always impressed with the caliber of their work.

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Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Given some of the comments on this thread, I get the impression that (a) some who live in Palo Alto really do want to wall their community off from the rest of the world, and (b) their concept of art and artists is stuck on Elvis-on-velvet "productions"...

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Posted by Mona Lisa
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2014 at 8:24 am

[Portion removed.] Sadly I suspect these artists, teachers, culture makers of Cubberley will be displaced by a bunch of crafty open spaces for the public to play in. This too is valid and probably more appropriate for the artless Walled City of Palo Alto. I've heard the artists are moving to Oakland, Redwood City and other cities that support the arts. This new employee is more concerned with her job and making a mark than educating the people of the Walled City What woul Ai Wei Wei say? Look it up Leonardo!

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Posted by Marianne Lettieri
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

[Portion removed.]
In the interest of keeping the discussion relevant, may I offer a few facts? Yes, our rent per square foot is slightly below market, but on top of the rent we are required to pay the property tax, carry liability insurance, donate to the City a work of art each term, host two open studio events, and volunteer our services to the City. As a non-Palo Alto artist, I pay a higher rent.

[Portion removed.] We are, however, considered by the cultural community to be good enough to hold advanced art degrees and teach at a wide range of art institutions. Every single one of us shows our art on a regular basis in galleries and museums here and abroad. We curate shows, manage volunteer art organizations, lecture, mentor upcoming artists, and have a large presence in the local art scene.

Sometimes artists are not in their studios when you walk by. Many of us hold down jobs besides our art making so we can pay for mortgages and children's education. Some of us work late into the night and on weekends. Our doors are shut for privacy and safety reasons. But I have yet to turn away an interested visitor who wants to see what I'm working on.

I am grateful for my studio at Cubberley. It may be rundown and funky, but the space and its community have helped me to develop as an artist. The economics of the Bay Area make it extremely difficult for artists to find affordable work space. I think that my work ethic and volunteer history are worthy of the trust and investment the city has made in affording me a space at Cubberley.

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Posted by Leonardo da Vinci
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:41 am

Mona Lisa-- you suspect wrong. I AM a renter and do not own property. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by PaPa (Palo Alto Patron of the Arts)
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

What makes Palo Alto special is the spectrum of the community and culture. It is not just a residence for high-tech workers. We have valued diversity, invested in public spaces, education, athletics and the arts.

What is maddening about this policy change and the current debate here is the assumption that if the city hasn't documented all of the contributions of the Cubberley Artists, that it must be zero; that being a professional artist requires no talent, effort or sacrifice; and that art itself is of less value than yet another tennis court.

Far from being dilettante freeloaders, these artists had created something special. Their reputations around the Bay Area, as well as globally, reflected well on Palo Alto. Beyond their work, they taught classes for the city, they produced lectures, and they developed community-building projects. The fact that, through regime change in the city, there was an absence of support, bookkeeping and appreciation, doesn't mean that there wasn't an earnest effort by these artists to give back. This abrupt and ham-handed policy has so disrespected many of these artists' contributions that we are now seeing a flight from Cubberley of the very artists that were models of what the city hopes to have.

The current administration hopes to reboot the program and eventually, they may be able to create something stronger than what we had. However, we have severely wounded the program in the process, tarnishing artists unfairly and damaging Palo Alto's reputation among the art community. Artists are leaving the program in droves while the administrators create excuses about why it takes them so long to jury in new artists to vacant studios. Administrators have always had the power to put whomever they wanted into those studios. These term-limits are a way of dealing with a perception problem created to a large degree by their own incompetence in managing the program that they've been ignoring for years.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 11:47 am

What would be great is if Palo Alto could offer a broad spectrum of maker spaces. Places to make art, tools for building things from metal, cloth, clay, glass, plastic or wood, electronic and software labs, music studios would all be nice. Multi-year exclusive access may not be needed. Why can't a wider community take advantage of the limited space we have?

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Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2014 at 1:01 pm

"Palo Alto might well look to the artists' community at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco for a model. It's the largest artists' colony in the country, and many distinguished artists established themselves with a foothold there"

Oh the ironcalosity of it all. You start out with sarcasm about walling off the city. Then you invoke the artist space at Hunters Point--the space with security guards who will not let anyone in to visit these precious art studios. There is nothing about the HP art colony that is welcoming or interactive with the community.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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