Paly to host three-day grand opening for Media Arts Center | News | Palo Alto Online |


Paly to host three-day grand opening for Media Arts Center

Event features Arianna Huffington, James Franco and a public open house

Palo Alto High School is celebrating the opening of its state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar Media Arts Center next weekend with three days of tours, guest speakers and an open house.

From Thursday, Oct. 16, through Saturday, Oct. 18, there will be events to showcase the 23,000-square-foot, two-story building, which is chock full of cutting-edge video, editing, recording and other journalism-related technology. After three years of construction on the building, Paly journalism students and teachers at the start of this school year were finally able to make full use of the center, which houses the school's seven student publications.

The Media Arts Center is the result of the $378 million Strong Schools Bond passed by voters in 2008. The technology housed within the facility -- from 119 brand new Apple desktop computers and 13 LCD television screens to six soundproof interview booths and a high-tech room for Paly's daily broadcast show, InFocus -- was also made possible through the efforts of the Paly Media Arts Boosters, a group formed to provide advisory and financial support for media arts-related projects and initiatives, and a $2.7 million Career Technical Education grant from the state for which former Principal Jackie McEvoy applied.

Former Paly journalism adviser Ellen Austin and current teacher and adviser Paul Kandell pitched the concept of the media arts center to the school board in 2009 after the school bond passed. They started by talking to students about what the journalism facility of their dreams would look like.

"The question was, what is the newsroom-classroom of the future going to look like?" Kandell said.

The resulting vision was of a building that promoted multi-platform publishing, collaboration, innovation, transparency and a sense of community.

And the sense of community is meant to stretch beyond Paly's campus. Longtme journalism adviser Esther Wojcicki and Kandell want the center to be a true community space for public meetings, debates, lectures, film festivals and conferences.

In that vein, the second day of the opening celebration will be a public open house from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be tours of the building as well as food trucks.

"The second day is really for the community, to bring in the community to let them see what they funded," Wojcicki said. "Without them, we would not have the building. They passed the bond, and then the school board supported the whole issue. It really took a huge number of people working together for this building to happen."

An invitation-only event on Thursday will feature Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, David Kelley of Ideo, who now heads Stanford University's d. school; and Shelby Coffey, journalist and trustee of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. All three speakers relate to ideas and concepts featured in the building, from Ideo's design thinking that's incorporated into journalism curriculum to decorative elements inspired by the Newseum, an interactive, journalism-focused museum. Wall Street Journal technology journalist Kara Swisher will moderate the evening.

On the last day, Oct. 18, Paly graduate and journalism student James Franco will return to his alma mater to display an art show called "Yearbook Paintings" and to premiere a long-form music video from his band's new album. Limited tickets are available for purchase to attend the evening.

Wojcicki said the project-based learning model in Paly's journalism and theater programs made a significant impact on Franco's life.

All three days, an unusual video exhibit will be displayed on the center's TV screens: footage from the Global Lives Project, which collects videos from around the world that capture people going about their daily activities. The 24-hour footage is shown in sync with the time zone where it's displayed, so people visiting the center at 6 p.m. Friday might see an Italian, Nicaraguan or Mongolian person at 6 p.m. in his or her country.

Designed to enhance cross-cultural empathy, the project will be available for viewing by all Paly students over a number of weeks. Some of the school's social studies teachers have also incorporated the project into their curricula.

Wojcicki said the Global Lives Project is just one example of the way the Media Arts Center can be used to enhance student learning.

Wojcicki -- who has worked with Paly journalism students since 1984 in a range of facilities, from a corner room in the school's Tower Building with 19 students to a portable with a leaking roof, no air conditioning and 84 students -- sees the Media Arts Center as heralding a new era in journalism education.

"The goal of this grand opening is to show not just Palo Alto but actually the nation that journalism is really the curriculum for the 21st century," she said.


Thursday, Oct. 16

5:30-7 p.m.: Hors d'oeuvres and viewing the Global Lives Project/tours

7-8:30 p.m.: Guest speakers' presentations

Friday, Oct. 17

5-8 p.m.: Community open house; RSVP here.

Saturday, Oct. 18

5-8 p.m.: James Franco art show and film premiere. Tickets are $5 for students (with student ID) and $20 for general admission. Profits will go to support the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Center programs and East San Francisco Bay Area based nonprofit Firehouse Art Co.

To purchase, go to

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2 people like this
Posted by Just saying
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

And while they are here, I hope they will also come tour the wonderful new media arts center at Gunn as well....

Actually, I think this is a wonderful opportunity, and our kids are so lucky to have both Esther W. and the journalism program.

Living on the other side of town, it's a little hard not to notice the $40M gymnasium, the media arts center, the new performing arts center, etc, don't seem to be met with any of our historic attempts at parity...

8 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Gym: the "old gym" was remodeled and a new gym was added. The combined space was larger than the the gym facilities at Paly and were paid through the bond program. The Paly gyms will bring the square footage to to the same size and mostly paid for via donation, not bond money.

Media Arts Center at Paly, new student center at Gunn.

Performing Arts...For decades Gunn has had wonderful Spangenberg...Paly has had no such facility - ever. Paly will get a new performing arts center...Spangenberg is going to be remodeled/refurbished and expanded by building new performing arts facilities/classrooms for the choir, bands, etc.

Pools. Paly's expanded pool was funded by donations...longer pool, scoreboard and lighting. Gunn's pool, scoreboard and lighting was funded by bond money, but received additional funds for on deck storage, restrooms, office and a classroom.

The schools will essentially be equivalent in the end. The only major difference is that a significant portion of the new Paly athletic facilities are funded through private donations...while all of the Gunn facilities are funded by the taxpayers.

I don't think anyone should really have much to complain about.

Like this comment
Posted by KateW
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2014 at 8:21 am

The tinyurl does not work.

4 people like this
Posted by Elspeth Farmer
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

To the Journalism Program - please be sure to invite Former Principal Jackie McEvoy to the Thursday event as she was the person who successfully applied for the Career Technical grant that was key to this project going forward. She did so much for our district (regardless of what position one takes regarding the famous "egg wars" and other topics during her administration).

Like this comment
Posted by Sports booster
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 13, 2014 at 11:35 am

"while all of the Gunn facilities are funded by the taxpayers."

Not all. The initial track renovation was funded primarily by donations. As were the lights and the artificial surface for the football field. Even the pool upgrade included several hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations.

Like this comment
Posted by Just Saying
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,

Last we heard, the school district chipped in another $20million on the Paly gym, twice as much as it spent to put a gym at Gunn, in addition to the $20million donation. That's hardly "mostly paid for via donation." That's spending $20 million of district money, when only $12 million was spent on the Gunn gym, which incidentally, already has potato-chippey floor boards.

Additionally, the whole point of PiE is so that when there are donations, we continue to have parity in our schools around town. Using the excuse that a wealthy donor wanted to make one school site way better than the other is not appropriate in our public unified school district. We've already had and settled that argument as a district.

Spangenberg is aging and I have not been impressed with the renovation work relative to new construction for the bond measure. I do not know why you are holding up the old performance spaces to compare, we wanted to do a fundraiser once and preferred the space at Paly. Having a cavernous aging space against another aging space of a different era is not necessarily anything to hold up in this conversation.

You are seriously comparing this media arts center with ... what? .. and saying this is in any way a comparable educational resource?

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

James Franco was already on campus today so he's around town for a few days.

8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 13, 2014 at 10:17 pm

This article is about the addition of a wonderful and much needed facility. Please don't turn it into a venue to complain about the two high schools not having the exact same facilities. Both Gunn and Paly are fantastic schools as their teachers and students will tell you!!

Like this comment
Posted by Just saying
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

Then I am back to my original post. I hope Mr. Franco and others will also tour the media arts center at Gunn while they are here, and celebrate the opportunities of all our students....

Resident, I too think it's a wonderful facility and opportunity for at least half of our kids. But if the rolling out of a facility that doesn't exist for the other half the students in our district is not the place to point out the increasing lack of commitment to parity in our district, then you tell me where would be better. It seems to me there's an irony in your post asking to sanitize a discussion about an excelkent journalism program resource.

3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

Gunn is free to host whatever events they would like to. The upcoming event at Paly is hosted by the school, media arts teachers, and the parents booster club. No one is stopping Gunn from celebrating any of their own new additions.

Keep in mind that James Franco attended Paly himself and is friends with one of Paly's media arts teachers.

Like this comment
Posted by just recalling
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2014 at 1:32 am

"...The king decided to give a festival that would last for three whole days and nights, and invited all the beautiful maidens in the land to attend so that the prince could select one of them as his bride...."

Cinderella - Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2014 at 6:34 am

Congratulations Paly!

You are so blessed to have all these wonderful opportunities to succeed.

Sky is the limit. Make use of it; make us all proud with your accomplishments!

Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Why would James Franco tour Gunn? He went to Paly.

Gunn has always been Paly's little brother in terms of notoriety, even if Gunn has surpassed it academically. I guess NBA players and actors are more popular than computer engineers.

And why is it unfair for a Paly donor to have all the money go to Paly? If I donate $100, half of it has to go to Gunn? Be serious.

2 people like this
Posted by Paul Kandell
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm

This story should give credit to former Paly journalism teacher Ellen Austin, who was central with me in developing and delivering the presentation to the school board in 2008. Esther contributed in multiple ways to the success of that presentation, but Ellen and I were the ones at the microphone. The building would not exist in its current form, and possibly not at all, if not for Ellen's many and substantial contributions.

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