Earlier this year, founding board member Dr. Joyce Gattas stepped into the role of Chair of the Balboa Park Conservancy’s Board of Trustees. Over the past two decades, Dr. Gattas has served on numerous boards for organizations impacting San Diego’s arts and culture scene and tourism industry. She is also the former Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University and is currently Special Assistant to the President of SDSU. Her many years of service have been fueled by an incredible passion for Balboa Park and for the region’s arts and culture community as a whole, and she brings her commitment, knowledge, and experience to her role as Board Chair.
What is your first memory of being in Balboa Park?
One of my first memories comes from when I first moved into the area and had my first sunrise jog in the park. It was the most incredible, magical, sunrise jog I’ve ever had, and I’ve been jogging in Balboa Park ever since. I love the early morning experience of the park in all its quiet, beauty, colors, and the solitude. I can tell you that there aren’t many people around at sunrise. I feel inspired starting my day like this. My other favorite time in the Park is just the opposite experience. Sundays when the park is alive with individuals, friends, and families, joyfully engaged in everything the park has to offer both in- and outdoors. I love the balance the two experiences present.
You have been deeply involved in Balboa Park’s arts and culture scene for quite some time—what drew you to the Balboa Park Conservancy?
In my past position as Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at SDSU, I oversaw all of the visual and performing arts programs as well as the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program. And in my volunteer work, I’ve chaired the Commission for Arts and Culture and the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (now the San Diego Tourism Authority). So the park represents a microcosm of the research and creative activities of my faculty and students at SDSU and my other volunteer efforts. Everything that goes on in the park relates directly to something I was involved with, either in my work or volunteer experiences. The Conservancy seemed like the right spot to exercise those experiences.
Your board position follows Charles Hellerich and Carol Chang, past chairs and original members of the task force that created the Conservancy. In what ways has their leadership inspired you?
I have been on a number of nonprofit boards, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the high level of passion, commitment, and energy Chuck and Carol gave to the Conservancy. They worked tirelessly to help build an organization that didn’t exist and establish a hardworking board, a mission, and a vision. Every board I have served on had already been established. With the Conservancy, I found myself serving on a board that required a very different kind of leadership. Not everybody can do that. I watched both of them give so fully of their time, their treasure, and their talent. In every way, they are the quintessential volunteers, especially in developing an organization that didn’t have a budget, that didn’t have an organizational or governmental structure, and didn’t have an outreach component. They were scrappy, experienced, dedicated, and committed. I was in awe watching them bring this board to life.
What other work in your professional or volunteer career has most prepared you to lead the Conservancy?
In addition to my professional and volunteer work discussed earlier, I served on a number of boards, including the Museum of Photographic Arts, and I’m currently the Education Chair for the San Diego Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees. I’ve had a lot of experience in these areas, which has led me down this path.
Having served on other nonprofit boards in San Diego, what distinguishes the Conservancy board from some of the others?
As referenced earlier, the fact that the Conservancy did not exist before distinguishes it from any other board I’ve served on. All those boards already had long-term organizational structures in place and a mission, a set of values, and vision. The Conservancy board’s focus was much more multifaceted, with so many different projects and activities going on to enhance the park. We were looking at developing park activation, fundraising efforts, long-term sustainability, the volunteer program, and more—a lot of moving parts. Usually boards are more singularly focused.
What are your current priorities as the Conservancy’s board chair?
We are working on a number of strategic park improvement projects. We’ve recently achieved some major milestones in our tree planting efforts. In the process, I’ve come to realize the trees are Balboa Park, and vital for the long-term sustainability of our park. What’s going to happen in the next 100 years largely depends on our understanding of which trees are in need of what resources. Another priority is to grow our private philanthropy. So we’ve created a giving program, and many of our passionate and generous donors have stepped up to provide unrestricted gifts. That didn’t exist before. Our current priorities also include building our parkwide volunteer program. And with the Botanical Building and gardens, we are creating a visitor experience program that’s dynamic and educational and brings people back—with renovated and restored facilities, it would be a world-class botanical experience.
The long-term sustainability of the park is something that most people don’t think about because the park, on the face of it, is so beautiful. But it takes a village to get all this done, so we need to continue to bring together all the key stakeholders, while continuing to build on our public-private partnership with the city, in order to make any of these things happen. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish when everyone gets involved.
Where do you see the Conservancy, and Balboa Park as a whole, in five years?
I would like to see us have a long-term vision for the park and a funding plan for implementing and maintaining the vision. The three important components of that are addressing the accessibility issues, the sustainability issues, and the possibilities. I believe there needs to be a vision for what can be in the park, whether it’s the development of the east mesa, new modes of transportation, or some completely new idea. We need to develop a vision for the next 100 years and then start working in the immediate term: what needs to be done in year one, year three, year five, in order to work ourselves up to that vision. So by year five, we have a working plan in place with all the stakeholders and the city really working together. And once you have a plan, funding becomes the next conversation.