With all the arts, music and theater going on in all the cities in all the Bay Area, why does the little East Bay town of Piedmont need its own arts organization? Because its residents love the arts.
No, you don’t understand. They really, really love the arts. They relish it, crave it. So much so, they not only vigorously support shows and exhibits throughout the region, but for the past eight years, they’ve been running the all-volunteer, nonprofit Piedmont Center for the Arts, hosting their own theater shows, visual-arts exhibits, music performances, literary events and more.
It all happens at an intimate venue in a former church building that only holds about 100 people. Yet the PCA attracts an amazing array of local and nationwide talent with eclectic offerings — everything from a Beatles art exhibit and Berkeley Symphony chamber concerts to tribal and ethnic art shows, an artisanal brewing competition, the San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra, and lectures on Claude Monet.
“You look at all the arts groups and little theater companies in the East Bay — this (love of the arts) is coming out of our pores,” said Sue Malick, president of PCA’s 10-member board. “So rather than wait for a Broadway show to come to San Francisco, we decided a while back that we’d roll up our sleeves and get our own thing going.
“Oh, we’re still going to go to that Broadway show in San Francisco,” she said. “But … more! We want more!”
The PCA formed in 2011 when a group of people in this upscale town — a city of about 11,000, encircled by Oakland — launched a fundraising campaign to refurbish a city-owned building, formerly the Christian Science church on Magnolia Avenue in the one-street downtown area. The arts group redid bathrooms, lighting and more throughout the site, excluding the east wing, which is used for various city activities.
While the city still owns the building, the PCA is maintained, managed, repaired and run by the volunteer board. There are no paid employees or staff. Volunteers do everything — from production, carpentry and painting to hosting receptions for events, handling box office duties, set design, costuming … you name it.
And while the PCA is still largely under the radar, it’s gradually becoming more known in the region and beyond.
In January, the center hosted The Yale SOBs (the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus), the second longest-running collegiate men’s a cappella group in the nation. For the PCA’s annual juried art show, curators from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum of California judged 600 pieces of art submitted by 222 artists. And the center continues to be the regular venue for the Berkeley Symphony & Friends chamber concert series.
René Mandel, Berkeley Symphony’s artistic director, says Berkeley and Piedmont have a lot in common when it comes to their “profound appreciation and passion for the arts.”
“By supporting small local venues like the PCA, our audiences have the opportunity to get to know the people behind the music and the production of our concerts,” Mandel said. “That personalized experience deepens the human connection to one another and enriches the lives in our communities and beyond.”
Upcoming PCA events include “Jazz in the Neighborhood” with the Destiny Muhammed Trio, an illustrated lecture on Claude Monet by artist and art historian Michael Stehr, and an extended engagement for Piedmont artist Michael Welch’s exhibit of large-scale works depicting soulful, iconic musicians.
While growing their reach, the PCA also maintains a small-town flavor. As part of the use agreement with the city, the group provides community benefits such as free use of the main hall on Monday mornings for the PCA Seniors Group, six hours a week of open gallery hours, music recitals and art shows for students from Piedmont High School and free tickets for PHS students to all theatrical-production dress rehearsals.
“We’re still growing as an organization,” Malick said. “That first flurry of, ‘Hey kids, let’s do something’ has passed and now we’re getting more grown-up, more standardized procedures. Our rental venue offers very low rates compared to other city facilities because we’re not trying to make money,” she said.
“We’re just trying to promote the arts.”
The Piedmont Center for the Arts is at 801 Magnolia Ave., Piedmont. Ample free street parking is available for evening events. For more details, visit www.piedmontcenterforthearts.org.