Berkeley Art Center Hopes For More City Support

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 09, 2006

When Berkeley Art Center Director Robbin Henderson came to the City Council, beret in hand, asking councilmembers to restore funding slashed three years ago, the unanimous body moved the question to the growing list of projects to be considered when the council puts together its final budget this month or next. 

The 19-year-old center, that Councilmember Linda Maio calls “a gem of an arts institution,” is located in a small building beside Codornices Creek in North Berkeley’s Live Oak Park. Its programs are intended, for the most part, for a local audience, and it is an art gallery as well as a venue for spoken word and music.  

The center was founded in 1967 as a city program, staffed by city employees. But when Proposition 13 hit, a number of city programs were cut, including the arts center. “They closed and locked the building,” Henderson said. 

But within a year, a group emerged that would create the nonprofit which now runs the center. Henderson worked there from 1979-1984 and again from 1991 to the present.  

The center survives on small contracts from the city to work with youth, hold film festivals, educational events, exhibitions and more. The city funds one-fourth to one-third of the center’s costs. The rest comes from grants and contracts.  

“Almost everything is free except the concerts,” Henderson said. The center is asking the city for $20,000, which will bring city funding up to the rate at which it funded the center several years ago. While expenses are growing, other grant funds are dwindling, Henderson said. 

Current exhibits include designs in kelp by local artist Lucy Traber. 

“Traber has been working with kelp for over forty years. Her work, Kelp: Pods & Vessels, combines a feeling of prehistory with contemporary art forms,” says a note on the center’s website, www.berkeleyartcenter.org.