On August 2, the Kala Art Institute hosted a tribute to legendary East Bay artist and teacher, Karl Kasten, in its new expanded gallery space. The program drew an overflow crowd of Kasten’s friends, fans, ex-students, colleagues and loved ones. It was exactly the kind of public event the Kala Board envisioned when in Spring 2007, (and with great trepidation) we gave the go-ahead to the FEP—the Facility Expansion Project, an expansion of Kala’s original third floor space in Berkeley’s historic Heinz factory building at 1060 Heinz Ave. The new space, which is around the corner on San Pablo Ave. and fronts the street in the same building, opened coincidentally and joyfully on Kala’s 35th anniversary.
Printmakers in the Bay Area and beyond may be familiar with Kala’s history. It was founded in 1974 by Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano two years after the two friends met in Stanley William Hayter’s experimental print workshop, Atelier 17 in Paris. Located first in a San Francisco garage, Kala crossed the Bay, settling briefly in a Berkeley storefront before putting down permanent roots in the Heinz street location. Throughout their early migrations, Archana and Nakano maintained their original vision- to help individual artists develop their ideas by offering them unfettered access to the equipment and space they need to produce their work. That concept evolved from an initial 12 artists-in-residence in 1974 to the over one hundred regional, national and international artists now supported annually by the organization. It also currently includes competitive Fellowship awards programs, classes for adults and children and an Artists-in-Schools program. And, it serves as a venue for an ongoing program of Gallery Conversations connected to Kala’s exhibitions and for public events such as the Kasten tribute.
At first, understood as a resource for artists based in printmaking almost exclusively, Kala now also provides support for digital and video artists, photographers, and a variety of other artists such as those who might need space for installations or for special project development. The gallery program, long administered by Kala’s Director of Exhibitions and Public programs, the able Lauren Davis, offers eight exhibits annually with three of them devoted to the work of fellowship and resident artists.
In the years since it first opened its doors, Kala’s programming gradually grew beyond its capacity to adequately serve its community, requiring the staff and small board to begin to plan to expand the facilities. As Executive Director, Archana Horsting, once described Kala: “We were bursting at the seams.” When an optimal space suddenly became available in the Heinz building, the Board cautiously bought into Archana’s and our President, Fred Fassett’s enthusiasm for making it happen. Preliminary planning began with feasibility studies and careful consultation with the staff, in particular our seasoned Development Director, Celeste Smeland. The next move was to hire Andrea Safer Evans, a skilled capital campaign consultant, experienced in helping not-for-profit groups. We established outside leadership and Artist Advisory Committees, identified several wonderful major supporters, brought in a friendly architect to help with remodeling plans and, lastly, secured the lease.
When it opened, the FEP added 6700 square feet to the original facility for a total of 15,200 square feet. It included a major new gallery space and a vastly upgraded collection and consignment room dedicated to the Kala archive of prints. New classroom space, project spaces, staff offices and a conference room were also added. When the total building project is complete, it will also include a small kitchen to allow the space to be rented for catered events. Lastly, the move into the new facility opened new workspaces for artists in the third floor studios, and increased the space upstairs available for custom printing.
A recent conversation with Archana Horsting amplifies the story further.
SW: I’ve heard there were several earlier places identified as possibilities for expanding Kala’s facilities. Why didn’t any of those spaces work out? And, how did the new space that we eventually moved into differ from the earlier possibilities?
AH: Well, the board examined a number of possibilities earlier. We thought about buying a building, but that seemed too expensive. We looked into working with a non-profit housing group that would construct a space for us as a lease-to-buy opportunity in a space adjacent to the parking lot for our building. But the easement problems made the situation less workable for us. We were aiming for square footage that was cost effective. Once we decided against that space, we worked with our landlord who finally identified the right space in our building when one of the tenants, conveniently, decided to move. Also, it was important to me that the board unanimously liked the space and supported the move, which wasn’t the case with some of our earlier efforts.
SW: Now that we’ve opened the new space, what do you think are the principle benefits it brings for both the artists Kala serves and to the larger community?
AH: It has so many benefits for us! First, it gives the public better quality access to our artists and their work. It’s a more professional public face for Kala and it’s a more professional space for all of our exhibition and program activities. So now the public will more easily be able to appreciate what our artists do.
Then we’ve added a community classroom that is so flexible it works for everything from children’s classes to adult education. And we finally have professional storage for our print achieve that is much more accessible and makes it easier to show work to collectors, curators and students. We’ve also got three new project spaces that allow artists who aren’t printmakers to develop work with photography and video projection, and to experiment with collaborative projects and installations.
Another important thing is that we’ve moved these activities out of the third floor studio and that gives all of our artists a better environment in which to focus on their work. Once we took many of the classes and all public programs downstairs, it’s became a quieter work space for them. There are so many fewer distractions now.
And you know, we’ve never had a meeting room before. Now our new conference room is almost our ‘most- used’ space, and that’s so important. It really facilitates the ability of our staff to work together in small groups and to host visiting groups. Pro-Arts used it for a recent board meeting, for example. We always hoped to be able to provide varied outside arts groups with opportunities to meet in our space and now we also hope to be able to rent it occasionally in order to bring in a little extra money.
SW: The economics and logistics of the Facilities Expansion Project at first seemed more than formidable to all of us responsible for moving it forward. It seems to me something of a miracle that even in such a recessionary climate, we have now succeeded in raising close to 90% of the $997, 500 we needed. What really kicked off the campaign and made you feel confident in our decision to move forward? What problems do you foresee for Kala if the remaining capital funds do not materialize as quickly as we would like?
AH: There were several things that helped give me confidence. First was the sincere enthusiasm of the Board. Second, we had a great capital campaign consultant in Andrea Evans, who gave us guidance on when and how to make the right decisions such as how much you have to have in hand to make certain moves, and that you have to have sufficient leadership gifts in order to go ahead because those gifts bode well for the rest of the campaign. We were so fortunate to have the support and funds from Mercy and Roger Smullen and Sharon and Barclay Simpson, who all believed in us and gave us enough at the beginning. Then there is our wonderful development director, Celeste Smeland without whom I wouldn’t have been able to make a move. She had just come to us from a previous job in Vallejo that entailed another capital campaign. And together, she and I realized that there was no better ecological or cost effective way for Kala to grow unless we embarked on an expansion. I finally signed the lease because we had just achieved about a third of our stated goal, and we knew that made it possible for us to do that.
On the last part of your question, we started the campaign about two and a half years ago, knowing the economic climate was turning sour and that it would make fundraising more difficult for us. Now that our doors are open people think it’s a done deal, but it’s not of course…And that makes it tough. There are some ‘naming opportunities’ in the new space still available that I’m discussing with local philanthropists. And we will work with our FEP Leadership Committee, and with some of the foundations with whom we have good relations, along with certain individuals, in order to carry us to our goals. We do have a deadline we’d like to meet by the end of the year. But if we can’t quite get there, we’ll have to extend it a little….. But we will make it! We are so inspired and grateful for all the donors and foundations who have brought us this far. And their belief in Kala will carry us over the finish line!
SW: You and Nakano continue to work together amicably as Kala’s founders. And Nakano ably serves as Artistic Director. What is it about your relationship that has shaped Kala into its present widely admired structure and organization?
AH: I think we share a lot of the same values about creativity within society, and the need for artists to have all kinds of support from financial, to space, to technical,….. in short, all the things that Kala offers, in order for the artist to be truly productive. We also admire the same special qualities in many artists whose work speaks to us. Not that we are in total agreement all the time, but over the years we have shared the deep belief that an international dialogue between artists can be beneficial to all. It’s like Nakano and I. He’s from Japan and we had different backgrounds, but our experiences together at Atelier 17 created a bridge between us. When we first met there, we had similar feelings for it and we admired each other’s work. Eventually we decided to strike out on our own
Now there’s a balance to our relationship. Nakano is a very loyal person. He continues to be the voice of Kala’s artists. If any tensions exist, they’re productive ones. I’m also an advocate for our artists and the one interested in connecting the artist with the larger community. Our roles have changed over the years. They haven’t been static. We’ve learned that it’s important to be flexible and that’s a good thing for Kala’s artists.
SW: Many people have asked me what the word ‘Kala’ means, and why you chose it.
AH: ‘Kala’ means art. It means many different things in different languages that we could connect to the meaning of art. For example, it means ‘good and beautiful’ in Greek. It means ‘fortress’ (for artists) in Turkish, ‘gold’ (or value) in Hawaiian, and ‘bride’ (or union) in Yiddish. In Sanskrit it means ‘art.’ We even found it had roots in the Japanese word for Kara-te if the ‘I’ in Kala was pronounced as an ‘r’ as it frequently is by the Japanese. When we looked deeply into the source of the word ‘karate’, we found part of it to mean ‘the spirit of eternal creation.’ Basically, we wanted a word that was short but had a welcoming feel in the different languages of the world.
Post Script: On October 5, Yuzo Nakano was seriously injured in a fire that swept through his live/work studio in Emeryville. According to Archana Horsting, he was brought to the Burn Unit at St. Francis Hospital where, at the time of this writing in late October, he remains in stable condition. The fire destroyed most of his unit, which he shares with his life-partner, the artist Kazuko Watanabe, and damaged or destroyed much of their artwork.
A fund for Nakano & Watanabe has been established at: Bank of America, 2546 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702. If you are interested in donating to this non-deductible fund, please make your checks payable to: Recovery Fund for Nakano & Watanabe, and note for deposit only to Acct: 05553-70660. You can also make a deposit directly through any Bank of America branch office.
For further information about the Kala Art Institute, such as how to apply for a residency, how to support the capital campaign or otherwise get involved, readers should consult the website: www.kala.org. or call Archana Horsting or Celeste Smeland at 510-549-2977.
The new Kala gallery space is located at 2990 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA 94710