Council members back new rules for Cubberley artists | March 28, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 28, 2014

Council members back new rules for Cubberley artists

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

by Gennady Sheyner

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 long-time tenants. Incumbents who have been at the Middlefield Road center 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 Cubberley 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 artistic disciplines, "including those outside the traditionally visual arts spectrum."

Ultimately, the city hopes to raise the profile of the artist community, which receives subsidized rent, and turn it into a cultural destination featuring concerts, art crawls, film screenings and a "Cultural Cafe," a public place offering food, drink and art 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 necessary. She also observed that those 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. Members said they were excited by the prospect of bringing new energy into Cubberley's artist spaces. 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. 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 formal notice that they won't apply for a new lease. Two or three others, including herself, also are talking about leaving, Fletcher said.

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

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at