Who We Are
The Palo Alto Art Center consists of a dedicated group of full-time and part-time staff members and volunteers who help to provide diverse art programs to the community.
The Palo Alto Art Center was created by the community, for the community. It is owned and operated by the City of Palo Alto, and is housed in the former city hall building. Originally called the Palo Alto Community Cultural Center, it opened its doors on May 1, 1971. This followed a period of lobbying by community members who wanted to establish a place for the arts in Palo Alto.
The Palo Alto Art Foundation was founded in 1973 to provide financial support and advocacy to the art center through a public-private partnership. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
In 1999, the Palo Alto Community Cultural Center changed its name to the Palo Alto Art Center. The new name aimed to represent the center’s focus on the visual arts.
Today the Palo Alto Art Center is a friendly, welcoming space that serves 140,000 people a year. We offer a wide range of programs, including exhibitions, adult and youth art classes, studio access, outreach activities, and special events.
About our building
The Palo Alto Art Center building opened in 1953 as Palo Alto’s city hall. The architect for the building was Palo Alto-based Leslie Nichols. The building’s irregular layout, brick walls, and textured materials were praised at the time for their “ultra-modern” style.
In 1965 the city council decided to build a new city hall closer to downtown. After some public debate, in 1970 the city council voted to turn the building into the Palo Alto Community Cultural Center. Architects Corwin Booth and Associates renovated the building, and the updated facility opened as the Palo Alto Community Cultural Center in 1971.
In 2012, the Palo Alto Art Center reopened following a major 18-month renovation designed by San Francisco-based architectural firm Mark Cavagnero Associates. This $7.9 million renovation was a public-private partnership between the City of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation. The redesign involved transforming the exhibition space, reconfiguring the classrooms and studios, and creating a dedicated wing for children and youth activities.
Other projects by Mark Cavagnero Associates include the SFJAZZ Center, Oakland Museum of California, and the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA.
Unique Facts About the Art Center Building
- The auditorium was previously the Palo Alto city hall council chambers.
- The current entrance to the Children’s Wing once served as a drive-up window where residents could pay their utility bills. At the time it was considered a state-of-the-art feature of the city hall building.
- The kiln room in the studio area houses the art center’s two large gas kilns. However, during the building’s use as city hall, it was a secure safe area.
- Following the 2012 renovation, the building now has LEED silver certification for green design and sustainability.
- The landscaping at the art center is by SWA Group, which aimed to make the spaces more usable and sustainable. SWA Group also designed the famous living roof on San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences.