Staying Alive

Alameda’s Frank Bette Center is back on track.


Margaret Fago hasn't let structural issues dampen her spirits for supporting the Frank Bette Center, which raised $40,000 to remedy many of the problems.

Photo by Chris Duffey

The Frank Bette Center for the Arts reopened in August, but the nonprofit community-gathering place for “creative doings,” as its namesake founder envisioned, is not out of the woods yet.

The FBC was red-tagged by the city in March for code violations over electrical, plumbing, and rotting staircase and deck issues. The center was also at odds then over a long-running tenant dispute that has been settled.

FBC leaders launched a GoFundMe campaign for the necessary capital improvements and stepped up community outreach with donation appeals to friends and supporters using the center’s website and social media. The efforts raised $40,000, board president Margaret Fago said. The sum paid for about $25,000 in the city-required repairs and permits and left the rest for operating expenses, additional electrical upgrades, and long put-off building maintenance. Annual operating expenses for the center were about $59,000 in 2015, she said.

“It was good for us,” Fago, a watercolorist, said recently about the crisis. “We did it. We raised that much and more. It was definitely awesome. It showed us the community does care about us and wants us to be alive.”

The center, a bright yellow Victorian at 1601 Paru St., was the home of Frank Bette, a German immigrant who operated an upholstery and furniture restoration shop and dabbled in art there. He bequeathed the property and a small estate to the community after his death at 99 in 1999. When Bette lived there, he rented space to tenants, but that practice has been discontinued.

Volunteers run the center, though it briefly had a paid executive director, Debra Owen. Her salary was covered by a loan against the property, amounting to a $1,200 per month repayment fee, Fago said. The center’s monthly costs generally run $2,500 to $4,000, depending on what classes, programs, and shows are going on, she said. The center derives income from donations, membership fees, exhibition entry fees, class and program fees, and artwork sales, with commissions shared with the artists.

“It’s a fine line getting enough money in and meeting the fundraising to keep it going,” Fago said. The center’s board is working hard to be “much more proactive” on the financial side “to stay alive,” she said. The goal is to create a cushion to keep the center stable and running beyond February or March when the current stash will be dwindling.

This month, FBC hosts its 12th annual Holiday Boutique through Dec. 24, which comes on heels of this summer’s Plein Air Paint Out exhibition followed by UP, The Golden Project, and Celebrating the Park Street Bridge Images and Poetry. Arts patrons can look forward to the second annual Secret Art Sale fundraiser for the center and Alameda schools in January. Learn more about what’s scheduled at the Frank Bette Center and how to support it at


Published online on Dec. 8, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.