Since its inception 50 years ago, the Palo Alto Art Center has become well known locally for its funky and popular array of children's classes and exhibits, including glass pumpkins and willow sculptures.
Now, the foundation that helps pay for these offerings is preparing to devote more energy to a less glamorous art: fundraising. The group has just adopted a new strategic plan that calls for doubling its annual revenues, with the goal of bringing in $1.4 million a year by 2025. This will be done through a series of annual increases of about 15%, according to the plan.
The goal, according to foundation board members, is to significantly increase the offerings at the center, which opened at Rinconada Park in 1971, with the goal of reaching more residents and increasing engagement. As part of that effort, the Art Center plans to partner on future exhibits with other local nonprofits, including Pets In Need, which recently took over operations at the local animal shelter, and the Junior Museum and Zoo, a Rinconada Park fixture that is now undergoing an expansion and renovation.
On Monday, the foundation presented its plans to the City Council, which enthusiastically supported the goals of the new plan. Karen Kienzle, director of the Palo Alto Art Center, called the document, which was funded by the Menlo Park-based Hewlett Foundation, "the most extensive planning process entertained by the art center and the foundation."
The plan lays out three priorities: heightening community engagement, increasing financial sustainability and strengthening the Art Center's leadership capacity.
The strategic plan notes that as part of its effort to reach a broad and diverse audience, the Art Center already offers many programs at no cost to the public, as well as programs such as Cultural Kaleidoscope and Project Look, which offer exhibits in area schools. The plan also notes that some programs at the center, including the Great Glass Pumpkin Patch, draw families from around the Bay Area and beyond.
To further heighten community engagement, the plan proposes that the Art Center participate in community conversations and provide scholarships to open doors to participants who can't afford fees. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine also suggested that the Art Center take some of its exhibits to other parts of the city.
"A lot of communities around here are really upping their events strategy and doing events all over town," Fine said.
Councilwoman Lydia Kou also suggested that the organization expand its partnership with local nonprofits to include organizations that serve seniors and individuals with disabilities. She pointed to organizations such as Abilities United, the Magical Bridge and La Comida as examples.
The foundation's revenues have already been on an upward trajectory, going from about $500,000 in fiscal year 2014 to more than $800,000 in fiscal year 2019. Its visitor numbers have also been on the rise, going from about 60,000 in 2014 to more than 120,000 in 2018 and 2019, according to the foundation's data.
Even with the fundraising, the Art Center still gets the bulk of its funding from the city, which provides about $1.3 million in annual funds and in-kind services for maintaining the facility, which underwent a major renovation in 2012.
Now, the council and the foundation hope the next five years will bring further growth, in both visitors and revenues. Councilman Tom DuBois said he supported all of the foundation's new goals, noting that success of one will likely help the others.
"If you heighten community engagement, you should be able to raise more funds," DuBois said.
Editor's note: The original story incorrectly quoted Karen Kiezel as calling the recent planning process the most "expensive" in the Art Center's history. She said "extensive." Palo Alto Online regrets the error.