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Cultivating Creativity at Kala Art Institute

Kala helps artists sustain their creative work over time through its Artist-in-Residence and Fellowship Programs, and engages the community through exhibitions, public programs, and education. Learn more at

Cultivating Creativity

By Ellen Lake, March 2021

Founded by artists Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano in 1974 as a collaborative workspace and a forum for ideas, Kala has grown from one etching press and a single hotplate in a garage to a 15,200-square-foot multifaceted art-making hub housed in the former Heinz ketchup factory, on San Pablo Avenue between Ashby and Heinz. Founder and executive director for forty-six years Horsting stepped back in October 2020 from the day-to-day management to spend more time in her own studio. Continuing in the tradition of being an artist-led and artist-centered operation, the next generation leadership transition is under way with artists Mayumi Hamanaka and Ellen Lake assuming new roles as co-directors.

Kala’s third-floor printmaking workshop is a shared studio space and the heart of Kala Art Institute’s artist residency program, where artists have 24/7 access to presses, a media center, and a darkroom. With a wide array of traditional printmaking and digital equipment, Kala fosters a fresh approach to artistic experimentation, as artists investigate the interface of digital work, work made by hand, and everything in between.

Sharon Jue, an artist-in-residence, describes integrating timeless printmaking processes with new technology to create Queen of Swords for a tarot card print exchange, saying, “I printed the background on the Vandercook Letterpress Proof Press using wood type from Kala’s extensive type collection, moved to the digital lab to experiment with colors and transparencies for cloud layers, printed out the film for my final layer of actress Betty Loh Ti posing with swords on the Epson Archival Printer, exposed the screen, and set off screen printing using Kala's vacuum press table.” Making multiples lends itself well to exchanges of prints and ideas, and this spirit of collaboration is alive and well at Kala.

Kala’s gallery, located around the corner from the print shop on San Pablo Avenue, rotates between five and six exhibitions a year and is free and open to the public. The gallery is a space where artists in residence can experiment with ambitious installations and share their work with the public. Kala Fellowship artist Mary V. Marsh, in her recent immersive work TransitStory, explores ideas about reading and commuting. Pulling from diary entries of her weekday commute, Marsh projected sketches of fellow commuters and text from her journal onto sheets of linoleum and then carved them. Using oil-based ink rolled onto the plates, the artist printed the linoleum cuts on a variety of paper; kitakata, Rives BFK, book pages, and newsprint. Some are hand burnished and some printed on the Large French Tool press or the Charles Brand. Making multiples and hanging them in layers creates the illusion of dimension, portraying a crowd of commuters reading in what could be the interior of a bus, with the figures getting smaller in the back. A second piece titled Vertical Scroll: Unorientable dives deeper into the evolution of print technology and responds to the cultural shifts from reading a physical newspaper to scrolling through news on a tiny screen. With so many people working remotely this past year there is another layer of nostalgia to this work now. To see how this work has evolved, check out her current Milvia Windows installation - Between Here and Now (runs through August 31, 2021), 2100 Milvia Street, Berkeley.

Pre-pandemic, people were able to take classes in letterpress, lithography, etching, and screenprint, sharing the space with resident artists and makers. Adult classes and youth art programs are online for now and we're preparing to return in person this summer for Camp Kala.

Other ways to engage with Kala's facility, resources, and programs include artist talks, video screenings, performances, after-school studio programs for youth, teen studio workshops, family and community programs, and Camp Kala, a summer art camp. Art is for sale year round, and proceeds are split between the artists and Kala – supporting artists and the nonprofit arts enterprise. Read more at

Kala’s current exhibition and auction benefit, Art Kala 2021, highlights inventive and meaningful art made at Kala, in the Bay Area, and beyond. The auction exhibition runs through May 16, 2021 and can be viewed both in the gallery and online via Artsy. Please contact with questions about art sales or visit the gallery Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5pm and Saturdays by appointment.

Image Credits:

Kala Studio Images (Photo: Kala staff Mayumi Hamanaka, Meg Pohlod, and Gabriela Yoque)

Kala Gallery Images

Malisa Humphrey, from the exhibition Threading Pages – Residency Projects: New Work by 2018-2019 Kala Fellows (Photo: James Ken Butler)

Mary V Marsh, from the exhibition Threading Pages – Residency Projects: New Work by 2018-2019 Kala Fellows (Photo: James Ken Butler)

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