Palo Alto Art Center begins $7.9 million renovation

July 28, 2011, 2:08 a.m.

The Palo Alto Art Center, a facility that has provided public events, art exhibitions and art instruction to the community since 1971, broke ground on a $7.9 million renovation project July 16.

The center has been closed since April, and the renovation is scheduled to be completed next summer.

Palo Alto Art Center begins $7.9 million renovation
The Palo Alto Art Center broke group on a $7.9 million renovation July 16. (STEPHANIE ENGLE/The Stanford Daily)

“It was an incredible celebration of moving forward on this project,” said Karen Kienzle, the center’s director. “So many people have worked so hard to make this possible, and it was just a wonderful way to celebrate with the community.”

The funding for the renovation will come from both the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation, a private nonprofit organization, and the City of Palo Alto.

“It’s kind of roughly a split of the costs,” Kienzle said. “We look at this as a wonderful example of individuals in the private sector coming together to make a difference in the community.”

Some of the major changes include a new children’s wing, upgrades for visitors with disabilities, new flooring, new landscaping and transformed exhibition spaces and classrooms.

“We’re also doing mechanical, electrical and HVAC upgrades throughout the building,” Kienzle said. “That will be a really wonderful benefit for community members, because we did not have any air conditioning in the facility, so on [a warm day] it would often be really oppressive in the Art Center, and it was really difficult. We were constantly apologizing to visitors that there is nothing we can do about the ventilation or how hot it is because we just don’t have air conditioning. Not a good situation for visitors and not a good situation for artwork.”

The current Art Center was built in the 1950s as the Palo Alto City Hall and was later converted into the Art Center when the City Hall was moved downtown.

The architecture firm Mark Cavagnero and Associates is conducting the renovation.

Architect Mark Cavagnero found that the unique part of designing the Art Center was transforming the interior to make it feel more like an art gallery and less like an administrative building while maintaining the old exterior.

“[We had] to convert office spaces to galleries, to classrooms, to workshops and have them feel like galleries, classrooms and workshops,” Cavagnero said. “That’s what we really wanted: the energy and the vibrancy and the excitement that an Art Center should have, because the things that go on in there are exciting.”

Cavagnero felt that changes to the gallery space will be significant.

“Within the confines of the existing structure, we’re making a great deal more volume,” he said. “They could start to display larger scale art, they could have better lighting angles because the lighting can be further removed from the art. It’s just going to change the feel of it dramatically.”

Art professor Enrique Chagoya has had his work exhibited at the Palo Alto Art Center several times.

“I think outside the University, it’s probably the most visible art center in Palo Alto,” Chagoya said. “It’s a very important community resource.”

Cantor Arts Center director Thomas Seligman has also admired the work of the Palo Alto Art Center.

“Their exhibition program has been first rate,” Seligman said. “They focused on a number of very interesting artists who tend to be regional, and often they’ve had very interesting thematic exhibitions, so I’ve been quite a fan of their exhibition program.”

Although the Art Center has been closed since April, its staff is still continuing to serve the community with its “On the Road” programs. The Art Center’s Art Truck has been traveling to various community festivals, and the Art Center has offered classes at various locations throughout the city and has set up temporary art installations.

“It’s our intention to really retain our current audiences and to grow our audiences during ‘On the Road,’ because we have this wonderful ability to reach more people and to reach new people, so that when the Art Center reopens, we’ll have a whole new audience to serve,” Kienzle said.

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