Hard work pays off for arts center, foothills community | TheUnion.com

Hard work pays off for arts center, foothills community

From local school classes to internationally known acts, the Center for the Arts has become a hub of all things creative in downtown Grass Valley – and increasingly, in the greater Sacramento region.

Spend five minutes with Executive Director Julie Baker and it’s easy to see why. She speaks quickly and with energy, full of ideas on how to do more and how to make things better.

Partnerships with local business owners and collaboration with community groups has brought greater visibility to the center, broader support than ever and has helped launch a $4 million renovation plan to upgrade the 300-seat venue.

“We work so hard, and some things work, some things don’t,” Baker said. “So much we do is just a direct benefit back to the community, so it helps to bring in some of the bigger names to offset that.”

Even though Center for the Arts lost out to the Sacramento Ballet during the Arts and Business Council of Sacramento awards ceremony last Friday, Baker said she saw making the top three finalists for the award as a success.

Baker’s operation was nominated for the Arts Management Excellence Award for organizations with budgets larger than $250,000 per year. The business council seeks to ensure the vibrancy of local arts by connecting them to businesses.

“The arts and cultural industries provide jobs, attract investments and stimulate local economies through tourism, consumer purchases, and tax revenue,” the council says on its website.

“Even though we didn’t win, we are making an impact in Sacramento. We see that in ticket sales,” Baker said. “Talking to people on Friday, people knew about what we’re doing.”

In a time when many nonprofits are seeing decreased revenues, Baker said Center for the Arts is doing well, thanks to the community.

“We have a wide variety of direct benefits: People come to a show, or their daughter performs here, or their husband’s art is hanging on the wall,” Baker said. “It crosses a wide spectrum of people.”

About 40 percent of the center’s revenue comes from memberships, sponsorships and grants; the rest comes from ticket sales.

Sponsorship from area businesses are key, she said, so she looks for ways to make sure those partners benefit from the arrangement.

“We need to prove we drive tourism that’s filling restaurants locally, and also prove to Sacramento that we’re driving business regionally,” Baker said. “I’d argue people come here for the arts, the environment and progressive health benefits.”

In her year and a half at the center, business owners have been supportive during the tough economic times, Baker said.

“It’s so important that both Nevada City and Grass Valley have vital and vibrant downtowns, both for tourism and for locals,” Baker said.

With other venues and promoters of the arts in the region, collaboration is critical, Baker said.

“We can really build this as a destination for the arts, but it can’t be one organization, it has to be a critical mass,” Baker said. “With the down economy, I think that’s been recognized.”

Beyond working with other venues and promoters, Center for the Arts has been making a concerted effort to work with other nonprofits in the area, Baker said.

“We did two events with the (Sierra Nevada Memorial) Hospital Foundation and raised about $4,000 for the cancer center,” Baker said. “We’ve done benefits for Friends of the Nevada County Libraries and donated money to area school drama departments.”

To contact Staff Writer Greyson Howard, e-mail ghoward@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.

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