Jan 10 2021

OPINION: A False Choice Has Been Presented for Arts Center Lease

Run by one group or a fully utilized community center?

Madam Mayor and Council Members

My comment on 801 Magnolia Avenue is that it is seems premature to sign a long-term renewal lease.  There seems to be a false choice being discussed – it is not an art center or no art center, but a choice between only a very much part-time art center run by one group and a more fully utilized community center with more options and activities.

The PCA may be the right option. However,  there are quite possibly other opportunities to also utilize the facility.  I walk past the center on a regular basis, and it seems to be very under utilized (yes, pre-Covid) – it does not seem to quite be the viable and thriving arts venue some describe, nor a diverse program and artist venue, as indicated in the staff report.

In summary it has not been a thriving community or art center, thus I think we could possibly have an art center as well as a broader community center with more diverse uses.  I hope  that some options and broad community input can be solicited before the building is locked up with one user for another seven or ten years.

I looked over the staff report and noticed a couple things:  the list of something like 280 activities seems like a lot but that is actually less than one activity per day (some it seems at an hour or two);d looking over their calendar from 2019 it seems like there are many, many hours when the center is not used.  And, the audience for many of activities at the Center seem to be focused primarily on one particular demographic of interests.  Next the lease terms for non PCA activities, such as City activities seems very constrained and not conducive to any regular scheduled activities – and third it seems that the City staff did not discuss any alternatives in the report – the ‘as compared to what’ question is not addressed.

As an aside, most of you know me for something different, but I am also actually an artist and active in parts of the East Bay art community. There are many many artists in our broader community  – and thus, there are plenty of artists, with diverse backgrounds and art, out there that could be utilizing the space for more than an event or two every few days.

I also raise my points because I have felt for a long time that there is a significant need in the City for indoor community space activities – particularly for seniors and youth – such as via a youth and./or senior center, e.g. similar to the senior centers in Berkeley. I also always thought that 801 Magnolia would be a good option for those uses. Perhaps our highly capable Rec Dept can run 801 and likely way more fully utilize it – including allowing PCA to have its activities via a long-term agreement.   This is just one option that can be explored.

In summary, please consider both an art center with alternatives that include much fuller use of the building, before signing a long-term lease, with a constrained termination clause, that seems to limit the building’s use and basically puts control in the hands of just one group, as altruistic as they may be.

Thank you.

Steven Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.

3 Responses to “OPINION: A False Choice Has Been Presented for Arts Center Lease”

  1. When I served on the CIP from 2003 to 2007, facilities director Mark Feldkamp told the committee that this closed Christian Science church would probably have to be razed because of all its code deficiencies. It would not be cost-effective for the city to bring it up to code.
    Yet, thankfully, dedicated volunteers managed to overcome these issues and turn it into the charming community facility that we enjoy today.

  2. The Piedmont Center For The Arts is a jewel in Piedmont. It has diverse offerings, music, paintings, lectures.

    It is run beautifully.

    Parking is a consideration and more non-Piedmont based activities, more activities in general are a worry.

    The Recreation Department has long had an eye on using the facilities for children which would cause more wear and tear on the floors and maintenance.

    It is a joy. Kept as it is.

  3. Michael, I think that assessment by Mark Feldkamp, a landscape architect, was made before PCA made upgrades to the building. 801 is certainly ADA compatible now. Nonetheless, you raise a legitimate question so why was a public hearing not held to assess the code deficiencies of the building and the city’s use of the space? The City currently has a huge surplus of facility maintenance funds to upgrade the building.

    Pat, who is worried about more activities in the building? Were these concerns raised in public comment at a public hearing on 801? To the contrary. I think residents want to see more activity in the building. Now, the building appears closed more than it is open.

    We all enjoy PCA, but it by no means offers diverse programming. Piedmonters have consistently asked for more community meeting space in town and 801 Magnolia is a logical place for this, as well as to add new programming for the residents. Will a majority of Council step up and see that a proper public discussion of the use of 801 is held?

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