A magical place: The Neighborhood Center of the Arts feels effects of pandemic, continues to support artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities, asks for community help | TheUnion.com

A magical place: The Neighborhood Center of the Arts feels effects of pandemic, continues to support artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities, asks for community help

Tom Durkin
Staff Writer

People are not the only casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Neighborhood Center of the Arts is closed because of the threat of COVID-19, and it may never reopen because of budget cuts caused by the pandemic, according to Amee Medeiros, executive director.

“We may not make it,” Medeiros revealed in an extensive email and phone interview last week. Nevertheless, “None of us are willing to believe that we are a done deal yet.”

The Neighborhood Center of the Arts is a sheltered makers space for artists and artisans in the Litton Building in Grass Valley. It employs a full-time staff of 20 people who work with the artists in ratios of 1:7 in the studio and 1:4 on field trips.

Not to be confused with the mainstream Center for the Arts or Curious Forge, “NCA serves adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities [who are] … Alta California Regional Center clients”, Medeiros said.

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Alta California Regional Center channels funding from the California Department of Disability Services (DDS) to the Grass Valley program. “We get paid a lot like the school system, per head per day,” she explained.

The Neighborhood Center of the Arts’ clients are “working artists” who split their profits 50-50 with the center. “We sell a little bit of everything, from woodworking, handwoven rugs and wares, ceramics, paintings, sculpture, drawings, handmade games,” Medeiros wrote.

Board member Laurie DesJardins added jewelry, “unbelievable scarves” and wearable art to the list.

DesJardins noted her 26-year-old son Andre is working in digital photography and abstract painting.

“He’s very happy,” DesJardins said.

“Andre’s an amazing young man,” confirmed instructor Leroy Tully. “He floats,” meaning DesJardins experiments with various aspects of center’s arts offerings.

“He’s a real buddy of ours,” said Tully, who has been an instructor with NCA for six years.

Besides teaching art and music, Tully said, “We teach life skills and socializing.”

Because of the pandemic, Tully is worried that the men in the program are losing their “rhythm” and sense of community so important to their – and Tully’s – mental health.

Like his colleagues, Tully is maintaining contact with his artists through phone calls, video chats on FaceTime and porch drop-offs of art supplies.

“There is not one staff who works at NCA for the money, and no one is there for themselves – we go to work because of the artists who attend,” Medeiros asserted.

“They rely on us. We rely on them,” Tully explained.

“We are a big family that has been rudely interrupted by COVID,” Medeiros stated.


The second-floor NCA studio in the Litton building is “so vibrant and alive,” said Laurie DesJardins. “It’s very inspirational.”

“Our art is the most affordable of all in Nevada County,” Medeiros claimed.

With prices ranging between $5 and $500, NCA artists’ work is for sale in three online shops, Etsy, Society6 and Teespring.

Teespring specializes in wearable art, mainly T-shirts.

Society6 sells NCA tote bags, greeting cards and art prints.

Etsy carries the full spectrum of NCA offerings, including handwoven rugs, sculptures, ceramic bowls, paintings and jewelry.

“We display art all around the community, in local coffee shops, restaurants, and wineries,” Medeiros wrote. “My studio coordinator Sonya McElroy organizes over 14 shows a year.”

The men and women of NCA are all “working artists,” both Tully and Medeiros emphasized. Money from sales is split 50-50 between the artist and operational expenses of the center.


“Before COVID we had 78 artists. After COVID, I am unsure who will be able to return,” Medeiros said. “Many of our artists are over 65 and many have parents that are over 70.” Additionally, some younger artists have compromised immune systems.

“We need 45 artists to participate to break even,” Medeiros said, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 25% cut to NCA’s $500,000 annual budget “may be what takes this one-of-a-kind program down.”

Because of social distancing rules and other strictures, Medeiros estimated it would cost $10,000 to reopen the center with separate supplies for everyone.

“Life before COVID, we could all sit in the studio and share tools. Moving forward, we will not be able to share – this means we will be spending more money on supplies alone. And if you’ve been following along, less money is coming in.”

Making matters worse was the pandemic-forced cancellation of NCA’s annual Spring Fling fundraiser, which was scheduled for May 15.

DesJardins described the Spring Fling as a BBQ, art show and garden sale with local nurseries donating plants to sell.

Medeiros said the Spring Fling would have raised $8,000 to $10,000.

“We will not be introducing our new fundraiser that we would have had in November,” she revealed.

“We were keeping it a secret as it is a brand-new idea of ours and was going to be an interactive activity, which would have required close contact, so that is off the table for now,” Medeiros said.

“The Miners Foundry was going to be a big part of this adventure, but they too are experiencing a hardship and we had to make the hard call to postpone this event,” she said.


Medeiros and DesJardins both made pleas for community help.

“We need more board members,” DesJardins said. “You don’t’ have to be an artist. You just have to want to help our artists.”

Medeiros listed a number of ways the community can support NCA’s artist.

“We need 78 art bins … like a fish tackle box or any shoe-box size container we can store individual supplies in,” she said. These “art go-bags” will be individually stocked with what each artist or artisan needs to work at home.

“I would like to spend $89 to $100 per bag – that’s not a lot of art, believe it or not,” Medeiros said. “Good art supplies cost good money. Quality supplies are so important. We don’t believe in cheap tools.”

“Acrylic markers are popular with our artists, oil pastels, colored pencils, water color pencils, paint brushes of all shapes and sizes, art paper of all sizes – and the list goes on,” she said.

Of course, cash donations are always welcome “so we can continue to pay our bills. The elevator alone costs $200 a month,” she disclosed.

“For people to visit our website there is a Donate Now button there as well as links to our other shops.”

Although the future looks grim, Medeiros vowed, “My team and I are going to do the best we can to continue to ‘CPR’ to our program so our artists can continue attending our art studios.”

“The NCA is the most magical place!”

Tom Durkin is a staff writer for The Union.

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