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Donation of building boon for center

Eileen JoyceExecutive Director Paul Emery (left) and President Jon Blinder of the Center for Arts in Grass Valley stand in the new black box theater under construction.
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The board of directors for the Center for the Arts can’t be accused of goofing off.

Since the center opened at 314 W. Main St. in downtown Grass Valley four years ago, the board rarely has had a day off from working there. And with center President Jon Blinder’s donation of the property to the nonprofit organization this week, the board’s hard work is now recognized.

Last year, Blinder personally bought the 21,000-square-foot building. He did it, he said, so the board wouldn’t have to deal with an unsecured month-to-month lease and a landlord who didn’t do repairs.



Blinder planned to turn the building over to the center once it could fully support itself, and he said that time is now: “We’re now financially a very strong organization, fulfilling our mission on a weekly basis.”

The center’s mission is that the building be accessible to the community and be home to all art disciplines.




As escrow closes Tuesday, the 12-member board has great reason to celebrate. It has endured more than its fair share of growing pains in its four-year history, including two executive directors between 1998 and 2000, and a shaky lease with a previous owner who owed back rent, back taxes, and risked losing the building.

In addition, the volunteer board grappled for three years to come up with about $5,000 each month to pay the center’s expenses. For the past five months, $10,000 has been needed monthly for additional expenses, including salaries and promotions.

The center’s income is from events, space rentals, donations and memberships. Board members usually can be seen taking tickets, selling refreshments and rolling up their shirtsleeves to wipe off the counter.

“This board of directors is really amazing,” said Paul Emery, the center’s third executive director since November 2001 and its first paid employee. “Four of the founding board members are still here. They stuck with this place through thick and thin, through leaky roofs and difficult landlords.”

Working closely, board members nevertheless didn’t expect Blinder to announce three months ago that he would donate the building – valued at about $625,000 – to the organization.

Ownership gives board members more confidence to go after community financial support and seek grant money, including government funds.

“It was a wonderful surprise. Jon really made it happen,” said board member Anita Wald-Tuttle.

“With all the problems we had with our landlords, it was difficult to run the center,” she added. “To be able to take care of our future, it’s a dream come true. We’re in the enviable position to chart our course without having to worry about being evicted or having rents raised.”

Blinder downplayed his contribution, saying that all board members worked together to present the center as a gift to the community.

“In February 1999, I joined the board when a fellow actor, Dave Irons, invited me. And at that time, there was some turmoil,” Blinder acknowledged. “I thought I could help. I got steamrollered into an admirable mission with an admirable board. It found me; I found it.”

Emery called Blinder’s donation “the miracle on Main Street,” creating permanency for the center.

“The building will be here forever. We’ve gone through the pioneering stages. Now we’re on solid ground. The challenges now are building this into a venue for Nevada County’s future generations to enjoy,” Emery said.

In meeting those challenges, the board in August hired board member Peter Wilson as business manager and to promote center events.

Blinder estimates that building usage has gone up 30 percent in the past year, and Emery agreed.

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been, we’re growing all the time,” Emery said. “We’re not just a place to rent; we’re a place for people to come with their ideas and we assist and give them support.”

Several board members along with Emery are visual or performing artists.

The main theater averages three events a week. Dance and acting classes, workshops, art exhibits and meetings for a variety of organizations take place in other rooms.

Youth events occur regularly, from school performances and classes, high school dances, Club Live (middle school) dances to concerts.

Since Blinder purchased the building in September 2001, about $325,000 has been doled out on renovations, the majority for electrical upgrades, heating and air conditioning, replacing two thirds of the roof, building bathrooms, adding insulation and removing hazardous material, including asbestos and oil tanks.

The 3,900-square-foot vacant second floor was recently transformed into a home for the Sierra Dance Institute. Three dance studios were built, and bathrooms, dressing rooms, wood floors, mirrors, a sprinkler system and fire safety improvements were added.

Finishing touches are being applied to the Off Center Stage, a black box theater located in back of the building formerly housing Monet’s Garden and art studios. Off Center opens Jan. 30, with the Fubar Repertory Theatre presenting “Black Comedy” and “Ventriloquism Made Easy.”

ABOUT THE CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Members of the board of directors: President Jon Blinder, Vice President Marci Wolfe, Secretary Dave Iorns, Treasurer Peter Wilson, John Bush, Alan Goodman, Leo Granucci, Sage Hoban, Chris Hawthorne, George Jayne, Janice Rosner and Anita Wald-Tuttle. (Wald-Tuttle, Jayne, Wolfe and Iorns are founding members.)

Who can participate: New board members and other volunteers to help on events or work in the office are always welcome, Blinder said.

“Grand Opening”: To attract more volunteers and show the public what’s new at the center, board members will hold a grand opening Feb. 15 with ongoing tours, entertainment and refreshments.

(Blinder calls it a “grand opening” although the building has been open for four years “because we have a whole new deal – new black box theater, new dance studios, new bathrooms.”)

For more information: Call the center between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 274-8384 to volunteer.


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