KQED closes $140M capital campaign, maps next steps for creating ‘sense of belonging’ in renovated headquarters

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Jason O’Rear/KQED

The lower lobby of KQED’s redesigned San Francisco headquarters.

After concluding its eight-year, $140 million capital campaign, KQED in San Francisco is preparing to fully reopen its state-of-the-art renovated headquarters next year.

The modernized facility, redesigned and rebuilt with $94 million from KQED’s Campaign 21, accommodates KQED’s expanding news and multimedia content operations while supporting the public broadcaster’s goals for building community partnerships and audience engagement.

The building devotes space to public uses through The Commons, a multipurpose theatre that began hosting events in September, and the PRX Podcast Garage at KQED, a training program for audio storytellers.

“The story of this building cannot simply be about what we are doing inside the building, for the community,” said Michael Isip, KQED president. “It very much has to be about what we are also doing with the community, for the community.”

Though the pandemic complicated fundraising and delayed the full reopening of the renovated building, it also helped KQED’s fundraising team make the case to donors for the vision and strategies the campaign supports.

Campaign 21 exceeded its $135 million goal by $5 million with donations from nearly 5,000 individuals. Georgi Kelly, VP of development, described the number of contributors to the campaign as “highly unusual.”

Approximately $45 million from the campaign has been or will be invested in KQED’s newsgathering capacity and specialized content teams, as well as the technology and infrastructure that supports their work.

Of these funds, “our highest investments were in news, education and the arts,” Kelly said. The newsroom expanded its capacity to report local and statewide news, added news desks focused on specialized beats and enhanced its coverage on weekends.

View of KQED’s newsroom. (Photo: Jason O’Rear/KQED)

Technology upgrades included launch of a new customer relationship management system, hiring a team of audience intelligence analysts to provide insights into audience behavior, and the introduction of Dalet, a multimedia production platform.

The staffing and technology systems that were already in place at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic enabled KQED to adapt its workflows and deliver timely news content to audiences, said Linda Larkin, director of Campaign 21.

But in March 2020, Campaign 21 was $20 million shy of its $135 million goal, Larkin said. The campaign team changed tactics for engaging contributors. They moved donor-cultivation events to Zoom and hosted COVID-safe tours of the new building for individuals and small groups.

“Our ability to pivot in 2020 when shelter-in-place came in really made the Campaign 21 case for us,” Larkin said. “We had a deep reporting bench that could cover science, politics, climate, COVID, fires, protests and the election — and could do that from home,” she said.

Up-to-the-minute coverage of COVID-related news alongside the other juggernaut news stories of 2020 — all delivered through remote workflows — demonstrated the depth and scope of services that donors would be investing in. They could recognize the urgency of KQED’s news coverage and the adroitness of its reporters, as well as how the campaign’s recent investments were playing out in real-time, Larkin said.

Inside the building

KQED’s broadcast and technical operations staff returned to work in the new building early this summer. Vaccinated staff on other nonessential teams were invited to come back on a voluntary basis as summer ended.

KQED also inaugurated two elements of its community and civic engagement strategy for the new building, welcoming people into its public spaces under COVID-safe protocols that require wearing masks and providing proof of vaccination. 

KQED President Michael Isip welcomes attendees to a KQED Live event in The Commons. (Photo: Alain McLaughlin)

The Commons, a 3,850–square-foot, 238-seat multipurpose theater, kicked off KQED Live in September with a special screening of American Masters‘ “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl who Decided to Go for It,” a biography of the groundbreaking actor that debuted on PBS in October. Cine+Más SF, a Bay-area organization focused on Latino arts, partnered with KQED on the event.

More recent events included a live podcast taping of Political Breakdown with Scott and Marisa featuring Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in conversation with Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos, co-hosts of the weekly podcast and radio show, and a musical performance by Grammy-winning Oakland recording artist Fantastic Negrito.

KQED Live offers interactive events that people can attend in person or virtually. The programming aims to encompass the public media stations’ content areas, including screenings, radio on stage, podcasts, storytelling, the arts, food experiences and civic conversations.

The series “is all about bringing our programming to life and showcasing our journalists so the community can connect with us,” said Isip. With the curated events, KQED aims to provide experiences that bring people together to engage in “bold conversations.”

By the end of 2021, KQED Live is scheduled to produce 24 events, Isip said. Starting next year, the goal is to produce 60 to 80 events annually.

Since its first event in September, KQED Live has attracted 50,795 attendees, the vast majority of whom watched archived streams of the events on demand, according to Peter Cavagnaro, director of communications and marketing. More than 12,500 people watched live streams, and 1,339 attended in person. 

The Podcast Garage has also brought audio storytellers into the building. With a dedicated multipurpose space that can seat 20 people, the Garage has hosted three events, including a workshop by the Kitchen Sisters, the NPR and podcast producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. Next year, the Garage will provide access to audio recording studios via a reservation system.

A big hope for the Podcast Garage is that it will attract and provide training to new talent, Isip said, and “the new generation of younger, more diverse makers will populate our broadcasts and online platforms with their content.”

‘We have to be together again’

To Isip, the renovated building and the community partnerships and events it makes possible are parts of a broader vision to create a “more participatory, more inclusive” public media service for the Bay Area that is “powered by the community,” he said.

His leadership team is still working to bring all staff back into the redesigned building under a hybrid model that allows people to work from home and the office on alternate days. The partial opening that welcomed community members and some staff on site this fall was done “thoughtfully, intentionally, and safely” because “you can’t do it all at once,” he said.

A grand opening event that KQED had planned for September would have opened the building to 1,000 people, he said. It will be rescheduled for 2022.

Street-level view of KQED’s redesigned headquarters. (Photo: Jason O’Rear/KQED)

“We have to get everybody back into the building. We have to be together again,” he said. “We’ve been separated and isolated for a long time.”

One of the biggest challenges is creating safe, communal spaces once staff and the larger community are making full use of the building. With its location in San Francisco’s Mission District, the building’s glass-enclosed three-story atrium makes a statement about accessibility and inclusion. But gentrification pressures are changing the character of the surrounding neighborhood, known as a cultural center for Mexican Americans.

When Isip met with leaders of local arts organizations during the renovation, they expressed concerns that the redesigned building “might not be approachable” to residents of the neighborhood, Isip recalled. They candidly asked, “How can you give us a sense of belonging in that building?” he said.

Isip is taking a multipronged approach to address their concerns. “It’s not one thing, but many things,” he said. “It’s the people who greet [at the door], the kind of art you have on the wall — how you curate programs.” Co-creating events with community-based organizations that bring their stakeholders into the building is essential, he said.

Isip intends to spend the next several years answering the question about belonging and co-creating spaces and content that welcome and speak to diverse audiences.

His goal is for residents of the immediate neighborhood and from across the Bay region to say that KQED is “the trusted source and place where we all come together to build a stronger and better community.”

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