In its 64 years, the Saratoga Rotary Art Show has evolved to reflect the changing Santa Clara Valley. What has remained the same is the sense of community, making the event what some call “The Art Show with a Heart.”

This year’s show is set for Saturday and Sunday, May 6-7, at West Valley College.

The art show began in 1959, when then-Saratoga Rotary Club president and Village paint store owner Frank Davis, organized the event as a community service project. Twenty local artists exhibited their work in the Buy and Save parking lot that year. Display panels were borrowed from the Santa Clara County Fair Association. As club historian and Saratoga architect Warren Heid reported, “The day was clear, the turnout gratifying.”

The net for that first show was a little less than $100. Since then, proceeds from the show have returned $2 million to local and international charities and nonprofits. Yearly net proceeds have grown to more than $100,000.

The number of participating artists grew from 20 in 1957 to 230 in 2010. These artists were selected by Rotarians from a pool of 400 applicants from across the country. In recent years, the show expanded to a two-day event with a professional art curator heading the selection process.

Over the years, Rotarians barbecuing “world famous Pepper Bellies” and serving up fresh strawberry shortcakes and shakes have been replaced by gourmet food trucks. Wine sales were added in 2010, and beer soon followed.

Entertainment has been a crowd favorite, and for several years a competition known as Saratoga Idol brought amateur talent from as far as Washington and Arizona. The first winner in 2007 was 12-year-old Thia Megia. She received $1,500 and went on to become a finalist on “American Idol.”

By 1961 the show had moved from the Buy and Save parking lot to Blaney Plaza.

“It was in 1983 that show co-chairs Jim O’Rourke and Bill Kron decided to move the show to West Valley College,” recalls Gene Zambetti, a Rotary Club member since 1974. “Everyone agreed it was a better location.”

Proceeds from the show go to the Saratoga Rotary Charitable Foundation, distributes proceeds to local nonprofits and the club’s community and youth service programs. Ninety-seven percent of the proceeds benefit Bay Area nonprofits.

Since 2002, the organizations receiving the most funds have been the Saratoga High School Foundation, Shady Shakespeare/Silicon Valley Shakespeare, Assistance League of Los Gatos/Saratoga, Hospice of the Valley and RotaCare.

This year’s recipients include Cancer CAREpoint, Community Cycles of California, Building Bridges, Child Advocates, Prevention Partnership International and Sunday Friends.

The art show’s 64-year history hasn’t been without bumps, the most recent being a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic. Earlier, the show had to relocate for several years during renovations to the West Valley College campus.

Gone from the show are the silent auction, which provided additional funding, and merchandising such as sweatshirts and posters. Art created for the show by local elementary, middle school and West Valley College students and even Rotarians has been scaled back.

Artists who do get placed in the show are paying more for the privilege. They used to pay a $50 booth fee and receive a 30% commission on sales. Those figures have changed from $200-$700 and 10%, respectively.

Even as the show changes with the times, Zambetti says, “It gets better every year.”

“The art show is community,” says Saratoga Rotary President Cathie Thermond. “Our members take great pride in the show and its reputation. … The art show is the glue of our club.”

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