The Center for the Arts is committed to bringing a wide variety of arts and cultural experiences to Nevada County through performances, art exhibits, and through California WorldFest, their annual world music festival. Even as mass gatherings and events continue to be put on hold, The Center is determined to hold true to their mission while being advocates for public safety, but they won’t be able continue this pace without income from ticketed events.
“Without more funding we will have to close at the end of the year,” says Executive Director, Amber Jo Manuel as they move to postpone more shows. “We were hopeful that we might be able to resume shows with live audiences in the fall, but in reality that may not happen until fall of 2021.” The Center relies on revenue from performances, events, and venue rentals that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They were fortunate enough to receive a PPP loan, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and $150,000 from the Economic Disaster Relief Fund. Manuel went on to say, “Every dollar helps us to retain administrative staff, and to continue to offer programs to our community at a time when people really need creative experiences. However, many of our programs such as education programs and open studios are performed as a benefit to the community. Without operations revenue from event income we will not be able to sustain these programs after 2020.”
Their From The Center broadcast series strives to make the arts accessible to everyone and brings live music into the homes of our community. These shows also provide local bands and emerging artists with a stage and platform to connect with online audiences and earn money when gigs are mostly unavailable. They also provide jobs for local sound techs and video crews. “It’s been so rewarding to see local bands and young artists thrive on our beautiful new stage,” says Manuel. Currently the shows are free and donations are welcomed. They are making a difference for the local creative community and music lovers online, but they don’t even break even.
As an anchor organization driving culture and commerce in Nevada County and the surrounding Sierra Foothills region, closing the doors of The Center for the Arts for any amount of time would have lasting effects in the community. In a typical year, The Center presents 150 concerts that attract music fans from all across Northern California. At full capacity, they bring up to 40,000 people annually to the historic downtown. Out of town patrons love to ‘make a weekend’ out of their events. Locals are thankful to have culture at their doorstep, and new neighbors often cite The Center for the Arts as one of the reasons they choose to move to this area instead of other foothill communities.
The Center is also a launch pad and connecting point for visual artists. Each year they coordinate open studio tours for up to 80 local artists in addition to curated exhibits in the newly renovated gallery. While The Center’s gallery space is retail and not currently subject to restrictions, they made the decision early on to limit their capacity and to require masks. Now, with cases in the county on the rise, they are again taking a proactive approach and shifting to a reservation model so that anyone in the community can come in, enjoy the art, and not be concerned about sharing the space with people outside their household.
Summer camps have been modified too. Manuel says “Right now we have summer camp kids learning new skills, including how to social distance in a class setting. They are wearing masks, washing hands often, and getting daily temperature checks. We want to be able to do it again in the fall, providing small classes that are safe for the students and safe for the teachers.” The Center’s youth arts education programs directly support the local school district, stepping in to provide a creative curriculum through the summer, after-school, and this year they will continue camps through the school year to support families struggling with reduced school schedules. They have also expanded their education programs to include workshops for adults to provide a creative outlet during this challenging time.
“Our number one priority is supporting the community that has invested so much in us, in this new facility, and in the future of the arts in this county. They deserve us to stay open.” Manuel led the recent $6 million dollar renovation project and fundraising campaigns that culminated in a state-of-the-art theater destined to lift the economy around it. Now, they are operating at a loss. They may be losing money but the community is gaining the arts, they are experiencing the resilience of a beloved and supported organization. “We are learning how to connect with an even greater reaching audience online, and setting ourselves up for a successful reopening when that time comes.” Manuel went on to say the time can’t come soon enough. They are seeking additional funding to ensure the doors stay open, and their modified programs can continue through the pandemic.
Since 2000, The Center for the Arts, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization, has grown into a leading presenter of music, dance, theater, comedy, literary and visual art, and family programming offering more than 150 events per year from its location in downtown Grass Valley. The Center recently completed a major renovation of its multiuse 21,000-square-foot facility in downtown Grass Valley making it a premier performing arts destination. The venue includes the main stage which accommodates up to 700 patrons for dance shows and up to 492 guests in configurable theater seats, a large visual art gallery, and a 90-seat black box theater. The theater closed just days after its grand re-opening due to COVID-19.