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Arts center renovation nearly complete

A downtown Grass Valley building erected 57 years ago to house a car dealership is nearly transformed into a customized space to dance, create, display and perform.

The newly renovated Center for the Arts now awaits the final touches on the building’s facade. On Wednesday, almost every classroom and studio space was packed with students from Forest Charter School, local artists, and children in ballet lessons.

Despite the activity, Executive Director John Bush and Board of Directors President John Blinder both said they were concerned there are residents who still aren’t aware of what goes on inside. Both said they encourage residents to become involved as volunteers, partners, visitors, and donors.



“The community owns the building,” Bush said.

The center began its operations at the former car dealership in 1998, but it was not until 2001 – when the building was purchased and the center liberated from its month-to-month lease – that the interior was finally able to be gutted and the exterior made ready to receive a new look.




Blinder, a New York City native and 17-year resident of Nevada County, said when his group first occupied the building, the center had an uncertain future. The leaky roof and lack of adequate bathroom facilities were factors, and a lack of money was another.

In an effort to make the center a more viable venue for the county’s artistic talents and interests, Blinder said, he purchased the building himself in 2001 with a $600,000 loan – a situation Bush said has provoked much confusion among residents.

“In December 2002, the nonprofit corporation (The Center for the Arts) assumed the mortgage and acquired 100 percent ownership,” Bush said. Interior renovations began soon after, including new bathrooms, a new roof, hazardous materials abatement, and new facilities for artistic endeavors.

The center is now home to several facilities, including a 3,900-square-foot dance studio occupying the second floor, a black-box theater called “Off Center Stage,” a main theater with 400 salvaged seats, and several classrooms and art studios.

Blinder said he believes the new facilities are a major economic asset not only to Grass Valley, but the entire county. “For every dollar spent on the arts, $3.50 goes to the community. This is a $1 million impact.” People are more likely to visit restaurants and shops in an area with a vibrant arts center, he said.

Users of the facilities at the Center have said they are thrilled with the new space. “It has been nothing but a positive, joyful experience,” said Carol Herschleb, producer of the Western Nevada County Open Studios Art Tour, which runs the second two weekends in October and will be featured in the center this year.

Philip Sneed, who has been artistic director for the Foothill Theater Company for 12 years, said they have been using the facilities for almost three years now.

“(The center) is much more attractive to our donors. It has a nice lobby, and the seats are comfortable,” he said. Sneed said the Center staff has consulted the theater company several times on what type of renovations would best suit their needs. When it came to ideas about changes he would like to see, Sneed said, he was pleased with the renovations, but “you can always use more lights, more comfortable audience seating, and certainly the back space could use the same facelift as the front.”

Residents can view the facilities themselves during an open house on Oct. 17.


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