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Fund-raiser will benefit GV venue

Carol Feineman

I]f you check out 314 W. Main St. in Grass Valley, it’s a good bet you’ll see plenty of happy individuals walking in and out of the building.

The building is home to Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that sponsors an ongoing slew of literary, visual and performing arts.

Most any week of the year, you’ll find a diverse assortment of concerts, plays, poetry readings and art shows by area and national artists. There’s also weekly drama, music, dance and art classes.

The center is a labor of love; four original board members from almost 5 years ago still serve on the 13-member board. Go inside the center and you’ll probably catch board members getting their hands dirty, perhaps by fixing a toilet, taking out garbage or sweeping the stage.

Executive Director Paul Emery is the sole employee and a part-time one at that; he often ends up putting in 12-hour days.

“My job description is to do whatever needs to be done at any given time,” he said with a chuckle. “I believe in what we’re doing. A venue like this is crucial to a healthy community.”

Emery isn’t there to become rich. He opened for Nashville alternative country rocker Todd Snider at the center last month so costs involved in booking an opening act could be avoided.

The executive director and the board do it all, from setting up chairs for a concert tribute to filling toilet paper rolls to selling coffee and juices at performances.

Peter Wilson has been on the board since last summer and volunteered before that for at least two years. Besides doing music gigs every week, working as Culburnie Records’ manager and raising two children, Wilson volunteers weekly at the center and maintains the center’s Web site.

While it would be understandable if Wilson was too busy with other responsibilities to help out regularly, he would have it no other way.

“The center is an important part of what Grass Valley is. It provides a place for the arts to grow and flourish. Over the years, I’ve watched the center grow into that role,” said Wilson on Tuesday.

Wilson has been active in Nevada County’s music scene since 1979.

“There’s been a dedicated group of volunteers working for a long time to have the center be what it is today,” Wilson continued. “Jon Blinder as president has provided the leadership to keep the center going; he footed the bills when necessary.”

Last October, Blinder purchased the 21,000-square-foot building occupied by the center.

“I wanted to secure the future of the center for the community,” Blinder explained. “For the previous three years, we couldn’t make long term commitments to improving the building because of our inability to secure a long-term lease with the previous owner.”

Blinder hopes to assemble an investor group that will donate the building to the Center for the Arts when the organization is capable of standing on its own financially.

“With the support of the community, that could happen by next year,” Blinder said, smiling broadly. “If we got significant fund-raising, memberships and donations from the community, we would easily cover the center’s relatively small shortfalls.”

It costs $6,000 a month to keep the doors open, Blinder estimated.

For weeks, several board members have promoted Saturday’s gala dance and auction as a declaration that the center is alive.

But the center has been alive with events for a few years.

“This is my take on it. Back in October, when escrow closed, we thought we needed a party, a coming-out party,” explained Wilson, the party’s chairman. “We also wanted to spruce the place up, have projects in the works completed.”

These projects included fixing the roof, replacing the heating and air conditioning system, and upgrading plumbing and wiring.

“There’s been construction going on since escrow closed,” Wilson added. “The stage lights didn’t have enough juice; they would trip often if you needed a lot of power. If it rained the day of your event, you had to worry about the rain coming in.”

Board members have worked feverishly to finish as many of the repairs as possible before Saturday.

“We wanted to be ready for the party, to show ourselves off. There’s been a lot of painting, bathrooms are gorgeous with murals inside. An honest-to-goodness snack bar was finished yesterday,” Wilson said. “We’ve been working on the place like crazy with this party date in mind.”

Dave Iorns, a past president of the center and a founding member still on the board, wants all of Nevada County to show up Saturday.

“This party will show Mr. and Mrs. Joe Public exactly where we’ve been going,” Iorns said. “A lot of people in the community have no idea we have a theater. This gives everyone an opportunity to see where we are, what progress we’ve made. It’s a celebration.”

The party also doubles as a fund-raiser for the center through an auction.

Saturday’s “Sample the Center” party begins at 5 p.m. with a silent and live auction/reception. More than 100 auction items have been donated, including two Foothill Theatre Company season passes, Giants tickets with free parking, airplane tours, restaurant and store gift certificates, fine art by local residents, and guitar lessons.

Richard Stockton, who performed recently to a full house at the center, will perform comedy at 8:30 p.m., followed by the 12-piece band Real George in a few R&B sets.

Surprise guests will also take the stage.

WHAT:Gala 3Sample the Center.²

WHEN: Saturday. Reception and auction at 5 p.m., followed by comedy and dance at 8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley.

ADMISSION: $5, which includes finger food and drinks. Tickets at the door.



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