Montalvo Arts Center - Historic Villa

Montalvo Arts Center - Historic Villa

About Montalvo

Montalvo Arts Center is a nonprofit member-supported arts organization dedicated to celebrating and preserving the creative spirit. Our mission is to create and present arts of all types, nurture artists, and use our historic Villa, buildings, and grounds in innovative ways that engage and inspire the public. Our exhibitions and schedule of public programs are coordinated around an annual/biennial theme. This year's theme is "Flourish: Artists Explore Wellbeing." To download more information about this theme, please click HERE


Montalvo Arts Center was previously known as Villa Montalvo, a historic landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan (1861-1930). Phelan, a passionate Californian who had been a three-term progressive mayor of San Francisco, went on to become California's first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. Villa Montalvo was Senator Phelan's favorite home and a center of artistic, political and social life in Northern California. Phelan invited leading writers and artists to Villa Montalvo to work on individual artistic projects in an environment rich in dialogue and fellowship. Jack London, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, and Edwin Markham were among Phelan's many guests.

At his death, Senator Phelan was explicit in his bequest of Villa Montalvo. "I would like the property at Saratoga, California, known as Villa Montalvo, to be maintained as a public park open under reasonable restrictions, the buildings and grounds immediately surrounding the same to be used as far as possible for the development of art, literature, music, and architecture by promising students."

In 1930, the San Francisco Art Association assumed trusteeship of Villa Montalvo and within a year announced the intention to launch an artist residency program, the third program of its kind in the United States. In 1939, the Villa reopened to the public as an arts center with 10 artists in residence and a small gallery in the Villa. At the official opening, Dr. Stephen Pepper, head of the art department at the University of California stated, "Through the cooperation of artists and the community, Montalvo ­ in its silence and beauty - will become one of the creative forces of the world."

Following World War II, a shift in priorities for the SFAA left many local citizens concerned about the future of Villa Montalvo. These citizens joined together to form the Montalvo Association, and in October 1953 trusteeship of the villa was turned over to that organization where it remains today.

Services Offered

For over 75 years, Montalvo has served the community as a center for education, inspiration, and entertainment. We offer visual and literary art classes, performing arts events, gallery exhibitions, concerts, and more.

In addition to this, Montalvo is home to one of the oldest and most distinguished artist residency programs in the United States: the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program. The creative exuberance of the resident artists--more than 60 visual artists, writers, musicians, and culinary artists from all over the world every year--permeates and informs all of Montalvo's programming.

Interesting Facts

Montalvo was named by Senator Phelan after the 16th century Spanish writer Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, who was the first person to coin the word "California". In one of his fables, Montalvo described an island rich with gold and jewels, peopled by Amazons. He called this island "California." The Amazons, ruled by a beautiful queen named Califia, rode griffins, the mythical winged guardians of precious treasure. Griffins can still be found throughout the Villa Montalvo grounds, standing guard over one of California's true precious treasures.

Location & Info

The Montalvo Arts Center is nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The grounds of the Montalvo Arts Center--with over 175 acres of gardens, hiking trails, and outdoor art installation-are open free of charge to the public nearly every day of the year, from

Click HERE for more information.

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