Campaign Q&A - Arts Center

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Q&A with Lark Palma, head of school

Catlin Gabel is in the early stages of a campaign to raise money for endowment and a Middle and Upper School Arts Center. This Q&A primarily addresses questions about the Arts Center.

Is the Arts Center a luxury or a programmatic need?

The Arts Center is first and foremost a programmatic necessity. During the past 15 years, as the school has grown, the square footage dedicated to the arts per student has decreased. Educationally, the arts are a core of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and are key to a well-rounded education. In no other discipline do critical thinking, problem-solving, predicting outcomes, analyzing, reassessing, and creativity come together as they do in the arts. In turn, the intellectual challenges posed by visual art, music, and theater facilitate learning in all other disciplines.

Will the arts program change?

It already has. As a progressive school our curriculum evolves and adapts to student interests. We have recently added essential new arts programs including Middle School drama, filmmaking, media arts, and photography. We have reached the point where the facilities limit our choices and compromise our vision.

Are the facilities really that bad?

The lack of adequate space for teaching the arts has been singled out in our last two accreditation reports as an important area for improvement. Our students deserve better than making do in shoddy outbuildings that were constructed for temporary use more than 30 years ago! Even with these challenges, the arts at Catlin Gabel have continued to thrive – thanks to the tremendous effort, flexibility, and talent of our teachers.

How quickly do we need to raise the money if we want students in the building by 2010?

We want to press forward with this ambitious timeline to avoid materials price increases and to provide our students with new spaces as soon as possible. We need to raise at least 75% of the cost – $5.6 million – by this spring in order to open the doors to students by fall 2010. And we need to be confident that we can raise the remaining 25% of our $7.5 million project before proceeding.

Why are we launching a campaign when people are worried about the economy?

It may seem counterintuitive to announce a campaign during uncertain economic times, but this campaign addresses the school’s financial security in two important ways. First, by focusing on the growth of our endowment we are setting in motion a plan to alleviate upward pressure on tuition. Second, building appropriate and forward-thinking arts facilities secures our school’s national reputation of superbly educating the whole child for life.

I know this is a stressful time for many people, given the current market challenges. I also know that history’s greatest philanthropists have stepped forward during the most difficult times, and I am confident that those in our community who can, will.

What makes you so confident?

Catlin Gabel parents, trustees, alumni, and friends are incredibly generous and loyal to the school. We are successful in raising funds when the need is clear like it is for the Arts Center. In addition, our savvy community members understand that increasing our endowment is insurance for a healthy future. During my tenure, we have successfully raised money for professional development, endowment, property acquisition, and building or remodeling the track and field complex, the Beehive, and many Upper School facilities including the math, science, modern languages, and humanities buildings, the library, and the Dant House. Our achievements make me optimistic about what we can accomplish.

Does tuition pay for buildings?

Unlike many independent schools, we do not assess a “building tax” on our parents to pay for new buildings. Instead, we fund projects with charitable gifts.

How did you choose what to fund?

The school conducted a comprehensive process to determine the campaign priorities. We developed a strategic plan and a master campus plan. The Imagine 2020 community conference in spring 2006 identified the most important skills the class of 2020 should obtain. Task forces and internal feasibility studies further refined our focus. The resulting priorities — endowment including financial aid, and a new arts facility for the Upper and Middle Schools — surfaced as the most urgent needs for the next five years.

How did you determine the amount to raise?

The campaign goal is based on interviews in which we asked a representative sampling of donors what we could reasonably expect from this community. For the Arts Center we considered the recommendations of our architects and builders, who are mindful of our restrained budget and desire for a simple yet forward-looking and sustainable facility.

My kid is not that into art, music, or theater. Why should I support an Arts Center?

Equipping students for leadership, success, and fulfillment requires much more than academic and technical instruction. Recent brain research is proving the value of training and exercising our creative skills. And, statistically, the measures of success in college, particularly in math and science, are directly related to the scope and depth of previous arts education.

Where will the Arts Center be and what will it look like?

The Arts Center will be built west of the Dant House between the Middle and Upper Schools and will bridge the two divisions. The grassy meadow behind the Dant House is “sacred” space and will be protected. The architecture is Northwest contemporary with lot of light and clean lines. Energy conservation and sustainability have been at the forefront of the design. I cannot adequately describe the design – it’s a visual! Join us for the evening Celebration of the Arts event on October 20, where we will unveil the plans. Also, some of the plans are being published in the upcoming Caller.

How can parents and alumni get involved?

If you’re jazzed by the prospect of a new Arts Center and want to help, e-mail or call Miranda Wellman '91, associate director of development, 503-297-1894 ext. 308.