Philosophy  |  History  |  Vision

The Arlene Francis Center for Spirit, Art, & Politics seeks to be a wonderful synthesis of educational, cultural, and direct-services projects that will contribute significantly to the social and political life of Santa Rosa and the surrounding area. Our aim in designing the Center has been to avoid creating a smorgasbord of well-meaning progressive activities, each operating under its own unstated assumptions about how best to achieve positive change. Instead, we have sought to explicitly articulate a unifying vision that joins all our activities as multi-faceted expression of our mission and philosophy. We are convinced that lasting social change adequate to the challenges facing humanity at this moment will only be achieved through transforming human relationships so as to overcome the fear that divides us and enables us to become present to each other in a new and affirming way.
We begin with the understanding that the fundamental problem confronting today’s world is that we cannot see one another for who we really are. We believe that inherent in our very social nature is a desire for mutual recognition, a desire to see and be seen as good-hearted and decent people who seek to become fully present to each other in the relation that the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber called a relation of I and Thou. We recognize that in the culture we have inherited and stretching over hundreds if not thousands of years, we have become “alienated” from each other, from ourselves, and from the natural world, pressed by our Fear of the Other to deny our deepest longings for authentic contact and connection and to live spiritually impoverished lives of unnecessary separation and mutual distance.
This Fear of the Other has been institutionalized in our overly competitive economic system and fear-based political culture, and has been accentuated in recent decades by the expansion of television and other social media that purport to link us together but often further separate us by projecting an artificial and one-dimensional social environment, a skittish surface of the world that keeps us glancing off the authentic world that we long to come in sustained contact with. It is this culture of fear and mutual distance that has been in significant part responsible for the creation of a world in which wars based on an anxious hyper-nationalism and irrational demonization of others are accepted as likely inevitable, and in which we continue to exploit the natural world whose in-dwelling sacredness, intelligence, and beauty we can no longer easily experience with the awe and wonder that should sustain our attitude toward it. Without realizing it, we live withdrawn into ourselves, in fear of others’ capacity to humiliate and in other ways cause harm to us, passing each other with blank gazes on the street, and seemingly trapped in artificial roles, self-images, and patterns of living that recreate our separation from generation to generation.
We, the founders of this Center, firmly believe that things don’t have to be this way and that the present state of affairs can and must be changed. But the change that we seek cannot be achieved by electing one special person to be president of a country no matter how intelligent or committed he or she may be, or by enacting new socially or environmentally progressive legislation, no matter how laudable that legislation’s goals may be. What is needed instead is a spiritual transformation of the very surround in which we experience one another, an elevation of the social space that we inhabit that will permit us to confirm each other’s essential good, high-spirited, and loving nature and to gradually gain the confidence that the longing for mutual recognition that we each feel within ourselves is also felt within everyone around us.
Such a spiritual transformation of the social environment requires the creation of what we call a “parallel universe” existing inside our present-day society—a just, sacred, and sustainable network of social and ecological relationships that by virtue of the energy and spirit that it generates has the capacity to attract others to it, and to lead others to dare to hope that they too should seek to create a world that can fulfill their own deepest longings and aspirations. By building a Center that in many different ways thinks about, talks about, teaches, and manifests this new social climate and way of being, we wish to embody a model of what the future society might look like, in a way that inspires others to create their own affiliated efforts in the days and years to come.
To carry out our vision, we are lucky to have a remarkable building that was originally a flour mill in the 19th century and has gone through a number of incarnations since then, eventually serving as a brewery and winery in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The Arlene Francis Foundation acquired the building in 1996 for the purpose of providing educational and cultural activities to benefit Sonoma County. From 1997 – 2008 the Foundation partnered with San Francisco’s progressive New College of California to offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Culture, Ecology, and Sustainable Community for students seeking to link their education with positive social and environmental change. With the closure of New College, the Foundation once again had the opportunity to re-envision the building’s tremendous potential.  

The Founders


Peter Gabel

Son of Arlene Francis and Martin Gabel, graduate of Harvard & Harvard Law, President of New College of California, law professor and legal scholar, Gabel is a humanist, neighborhood activist, and community builder.  Mr. Gabel has written the books, The Redemptive Power Of Law: Finding Spiritual Meaning In Legal Culture & Using It To Create A Better World and The Bank Teller & Other Essays On The Politics Of Meaning, The Desire for Mutual Recognition.


Martin Hamilton

Director of The Arlene Francis Center.  A creative leader of the New College of California for 30 years, Mr. Hamilton served as president of the school for ten years. In addition, he has a long history of working with underserved communities to develop mental health, law and literacy services.  


Colleen O Neal

Colleen O'Neal is one heck of a bad-ass.  When she is not managing the administration for The Arlene Francis Center, or working on civic cases for under-represented community members, she is cooking up a delicious pasta salad, laughing her beautiful giggle of joy, enjoying her garden of goodies and filling the center with her bouquets of vibrant beauty!


Bob Brown

Striving towards a collaborative vision,
leadership and direction in development and implementation of policies and procedures, Bob works to create an adaptive, connected, and meaningful work environment.  He has been involved in education and technology, administrator and educator. 


Bruce Rhodes

Bruce Alan Rhodes was born in New York City in 1954. Raised in The Todt Hill Projects, he formulated the belief early in life that family, community, and environment were the foundation of a positive world.  Connecting cultures and service-projects in Santa Rosa to those in West Africa Bruce spearheads the non-profit Drums for Solar. 

Arlene Francis


In the 1950s, one could scarcely flip the channels on the television set without landing on the image of Arlene Francis. Media scholar Bernard Timberg says she “played a key role in television’s first decades as performer, talk-show host, and guest star, appearing on many shows and proving herself to be one of the medium’s most durable personalities.” At the height of her career in the fifties, Francis could be seen on as many as three programs per week spread over all three networks, which TV Guide lovingly dubbed “the tri-network Arlene Francis cartel.” She began racking up “first woman to” accolades early in her career, including first female game show host (Blind Date) and first “femcee” or “mistress of ceremonies” of Your Show of Shows. She was also the first woman to ring the bell to open trading at the New York Stock Exchange. Her longevity in prime time is largely due to the quarter century between 1950 and 1975 that she spent as a panelist on the highbrow game show What’s My Line?. But it was her newsmagazine talk show Home(1954–57) that secured her place as a television pioneer. She was both host and editor in chief of the innovative and ambitious program of substantive talk that paved the way for such contemporary shows as The View and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Born Arline Francis Kazanjian on October 20, 1907, in Boston, she began reciting poetry for her grandfather, an actor, and quickly developed what she calls “exhibitionist tendencies.” Her strict father, successful Armenian portrait photographer Aram Kazanjian, forbid the young Arlene to pursue a career in the theater. Eventually he went so far as to set her up with her own boutique on Madison Avenue, as she says, “to keep me off the streets until I could find a nice rich feller and get married.” But soon enough she dropped her polysyllabic last name, changed the spelling of her first name, and off she went to make her own way in show business. Francis had a few early breaks doing voice-over work for radio ads, which eventually turned into a job voicing characters on the radio soap opera King Arthur’s Round Table. Her knack for eloquent, natural delivery and easy characterizations landed her roles on serial after serial, many of them running concurrently. For a time she worked closely with Orson Welles as a member of his Mercury Theatre company, performing in plays like Danton’s Death (1938). During World War II, she began hosting the radio game show Blind Date,  as television was dawning and radio drama was nearing its end. In an interview with Mike Wallace, Francis spoke of her situation: “I know that when television started I went to my manager and said well I’m finished. There’s no place for me in television, I’m a radio personality.” As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Blind Date made the move to television, taking Francis with it. She became the first woman to ever host a TV game show.

In 1950 Francis joined the new game show What’s My Line?. She served on a panel of four alongside fellow New York intellectuals, including columnist Dorothy Kilgallen and publisher Bennett Cerf. Each Sunday night, the witty foursome would play a version of twenty questions with a mystery guest and try to ascertain the guest’s occupation. In 1953 Francis also began hosting the talent show Talent Patrol (a.k.a. Soldier Parade). She was becoming a respected television personality known for her charm, elegant appearance, and tasteful wit.  In 1954 when Pat Weaver, president of NBC, was ready to develop the third of his intended NBC daily programming trilogy to accompany Today and Tonight, he turned to Francis for her broad appeal to women and her skills as a “femcee.” Home was the first TV newsmagazine of its kind, outfitted with an expensive revolving set and TV’s first use of cameras suspended from the studio ceiling. Weaver said, “Home was a show built for the women who were not watching soaps, game shows, daytime stuff, and we knew already from radio and television research that almost half of the women in the country do not watch or listen to that stuff.” The show’s announcer, Hugh Downs, said of his entire career, “Some of the most exhilarating years on television certainly, maybe the most that I had, were the years with Arlene on Home. Every day was an opening night.” Although the show was cancelled after three and a half years on the air, Timberg considers Home “the first major effort by a national network to capture the daytime audience of women with a woman host and a serious informational format.”

After the cancellation of Home, Francis hosted the TV talk show The Arlene Francis Show, which lasted less than a year. She could be seen frequently substituting for hosts on Today and Tonightthroughout the fifties. She was featured on several covers of TV GuideLook Magazine, and Newsweek, in which she was dubbed “the first lady of television.” Despite her success as a TV personality, she never lost her love for acting. She starred in several films, including One, Two, Three and All My Sons and appeared on Broadway. Francis was always careful to walk softly in her public life as a “career woman” during the more restrictive era of the 1950s, but she quietly made big strides for women in the industry.

Francis would continue on What’s My Line? until it was finally taken off the air in 1975. She continued to host an hour-long daily radio interview show on WOR from 1961 until 1990 where she consistently booked hard-to-get, high-profile guests. Francis passed away May 31, 2001, at the age of 93. She is remembered as a popular and respected television personality who pioneered challenging programming designed for women. Timberg writes that her work must be seen in a historical context: “Her career also illustrates the importance of power and control in the role of a 1950’s talk-show host, and the uphill battle faced by a woman host during this time.” For a charming personality, she was also something of a visionary, speaking with confidence in 1959 on the need for restructuring the way television programming is financed and distributed to the public. Above all, she was a proponent of the industry itself, saying, “The good that television can do and does do is so enormous that I think we have to put up with the rest of it…You know people that are going around knocking it forget that we are really growing ... we are still such children still crawling in this industry.”