MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
The Griffith Observatory is a beloved landmark in Los Angeles.
Since 1935, the luminous white building high atop the Hollywood Hills in Griffith Park, has attracted millions of visitors — about 1.6 million annually — who have the opportunity to marvel at the stars in the sky, or take in the vistas from Hollywood all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The iconic observatory, owned and operated as a public service by the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, has become the most visited public observatory in the world.
Its history started with the vision of one man and reflects the invention, innovation and inspiration that also characterizes much of Los Angeles.
The Griffith Observatory Foundation is tapped with making sure everything runs smoothly at the popular attraction.
Its mission is to support and promote the Griffith Observatory as a home for science literacy, education and public astronomy through resource development and advocacy in partnership with the community.
Ann Marie Bedtke is the executive director of the Griffith Observatory Foundation and Nikki Gordon is the manager of communications and membership.
“I wanted to work for the organization because I wanted to support the Griffith Observatory to the next level in terms of inspiring and educating the people of our community and the world,” said Bedtke, a native of Dover, Minnesota.
Gordon, a Claremont native, said she wanted to work with the organization because she loves L.A. and loves “working for a major cultural institution that is of great service to the community.”
“The Griffith Observatory is important,” Gordon said. “The way it serves the public, it transforms the visitor into an observer who is able to have a deeper understanding of space and the sky. The foundation is for the public to help sustain this place.”
The Griffith Observatory Foundation has served as the exclusive nonprofit partner of the Griffith Observatory for more than 40 years.
Through the decades, with the support of its volunteer board and thousands of members and donors, the foundation has accomplished the fulfillment of any request to update, upgrade and preserve the facility.
In December 1978, the Griffith Observatory Foundation was chartered as Friends Of The Observatory. Founded by Debra and Harold Griffith (the grandson of Observatory founder Griffith J. Griffith) alongside E.C. Krupp (the current observatory director) and a small group of dedicated partners, the purpose of the organization was to support the observatory in its mission and to advocate for its restoration and renewal.
The foundation played a significant role in the $93 million renovation and expansion of Griffith Observatory.
“During the renovation from 2002-2006, we raised $90 million to do the renovation,” said Bedtke. “It would be a lot more today.”
The city of Los Angeles and the foundation crafted a unique public-private partnership to mount the most significant project for the sbservatory since its doors opened.
Guided by a 1990 master plan, the project assembled a world-class team of architects, exhibit designers, astronomy experts, construction workers, exhibit fabricators, instrument and equipment builders, and many others who worked from 2002 to 2006.
Since reopening after the renovation, the observatory has reached increasingly larger audiences, both in-person, online and through media and film. In 2020, the observatory celebrated its 85th anniversary.
As the designated fundraising organization for the project, the foundation directly raised nearly a third of the required funds and participated actively in securing much of the other funding for the project.
Throughout the pandemic and subsequent facilities closure, the foundation made possible the production of educational and inspirational online programs, digital benefits and resources that extended the observatory’s reach far beyond the walls of the building.
Foundation supporters find purpose in securing the future of the observatory and its mission to inspire everyone to observe, ponder and understand the sky.
The observatory’s future depends on donors and supporters.
“We are their ambassadors,” Bedtke said. “We’ve come to find out that people don’t think the Griffith Observatory needs support. It does. It’s a free place to go and enjoy, but it needs additional funds if there is going to be programming.
“We have challenges just like other foundations. There is more streaming through technology. We need funds in order to do that. We can now reach around the world.”
The observatory offers volunteer programming.
“There are teams that support different initiatives,” Gordon said. “It can be office-related, or special events, community outreach or setting up booths at events.”
The fundraising arm includes a membership component.
“It goes to supporting the programming,” said Gordon. “Advocate for people to know there is a membership aspect. Also donations. Those are the primary ways we fundraise.”
The amount of money raised and/or needed each year to run the observatory varies, according to Bedtke.
“It depends on the … given year,” she said. “In a basic year, it comes in at around $2 million.
“We recently paid for and supported a Samuel Oschin Planetarium Show. It’s a detective story about what researchers and scientists and what we’ve done to explore life outside of earth. It was an $8 million program. In 2022, the show will be released to the public.”
One of the observatory’s programs is an on-site school program, which has been operating for decades. It accommodates 28,000 fifth grade students every year.
“We have a program for fifth graders because it’s part of their core curriculum,” Gordon said. “The programming works closely with educators. On site, the program is structured as a school trip. It’s a complement to the science fifth graders are already learning.”
“People don’t know that we need their support,” Bedtke said. “We want to grow our programming. It’s open for them.
“We encourage people to become a member so they experience it with special benefits,” she added. “There is no place like it in the world. It’s an incredible gift to the city. We want people to feel they own the Griffith Observatory.”
“It’s about engaging the public,” said Gordon, who attended UCLA and UC Berkeley and studied film and television production and rhetoric. “We have different ways of getting the public involved that includes volunteering, outreach, donations and membership.”
Bedtke, who received a master’s degree in business administration from Mt. St. Mary’s University where she studied organizational leadership and entrepreneurship, said memberships include special access, priority seating and discounts.
“The memberships go to supporting the programming,” Bedtke said. “We advocate for people to know there is a membership aspect. Also donations. Those are the primary ways that we fundraise.”
The grounds to the Griffith Observatory are open every day. However, access to the inside of the building is only open on Fridays from noon to 10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.