After all, it’s your Center for the Arts |

After all, it’s your Center for the Arts

What is a center for the arts really? So much could fall under that soubriquet. Yet, at the same time, it is so much more than its title portends.

Want music? You got it. Want art? You got it. Want to listen to poetry that moves your soul? You got it. Want to mentor? Come right in. What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions The Center for the Arts? Did you say music? You’d be right, and yet that vision would be sorely constricted.

The Center for the Arts is a hub — a living, beating heart of the community whose arteries gird and invigorate the whole of western Nevada County, as well as Placer County, Sacramento, Tahoe, Reno and the Bay Area. Indeed, 30 percent of the center’s patrons are from out of the area.

The center’s growth has been nothing less than amazing. In 1984, the center’s building housed a beauty college. From the street, one could see hair dryers lined up against the windows. By the late 1990s, the building stood empty, no longer home to a Chevrolet dealership.

Community members, armed with an innovative vision, began to bring performances to town, beginning with the first milestone, a concert by Roger Hodgson of Supertramp.

The Off Center Stage and a dance studio were completed in 2002, and in 2003 the building itself began a transformation into the Deco style fronting Main Street today.

But a building is nothing without an animating principle. The center’s 700 trained volunteers, 14 staff and 12 board members give it that. Working with an annual budget of $1.6 million, the staff and volunteers put on more than 150 performances in 2013.

Collaboration with other nonprofits also invigorates the Center, and brought the Bear Yuba Land Trust annual concerts with Aaron Neville in 2011, Willie Nelson in 2012 and Dr. John in 2013. And then there is the partnership with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital called “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Just watching the crowds doubled over with glee at the performances of Bill Cosby (at the Nevada County Fairgrounds) and Dana Carvey (at the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium) defined the importance of laughter regarding good health.

In 2012, the center received a prestigious grant from the James Irvine Foundation to produce a music mentor program. Called the Community Jam, the program offers weekly sessions in which professional musicians work with amateurs 16 and up on keyboards, guitars, percussion and vocals in such varied genres as country, blues, rock and folk. Ultimately, they perform as a group.

This is the center doing, perhaps, what it does best — making community, especially for those who might otherwise never have the economic reach to try. There is joy in the learning, joy in the playing and joy in lasting new bonds of friendship formed between amateurs and such pros as Lorraine Gervais, Kelly Fleming, Tony Unger, Craig Thomas, Jen Knapp and Ty Smith.

The second round of Community Jam is ending now, but it will begin again in 2014. If you’ve ever wanted to perform, this is your chance!

The center is so much more than a music venue; it is impossible to fully name all that it offers. But there is the children’s theatre company, the Performing Arts Guild, summer camp with scholarships for underserved young people, art galleries, classrooms and the support the center provides for local artists and arts organizations.

As the living spirit of the community, the center is determined to modernize its facility in order to improve increased accessibility — including upgrades to meet the Americans With Disability Act requirements — and to revamp the Veterans Memorial Auditorium gymnasium seating.

“Operation: Name A Seat” will begin in 2014. The bleachers will be retrofitted with stadium seating with cushions, and for a donation of $100, a plaque with the name of a U.S. veteran or currently serving soldier will be installed.

The center is wrapping up its fall membership drive. Now is a perfect time to join (levels begin at $50 for one year), become a volunteer, make a tax deductible donation or advertise in event programs. Don’t miss out again on such marvelous shows as Wynonna Judd, the Count Basie Orchestra, Chick Corea, Marcia Ball, Mary Chapin, Marc Cohn and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, or extraordinary opportunities the center offers to enjoy collaboration with InConcert Sierra and Sierra Stages, as well as a multitude of arts organizations.

The center has gone from an empty warehouse with hair dryers to a top-notch, multifarious arts center in the heart of the gold country. It’s your center. Come join the band!

Lynn Wenzel lives in Grass Valley.

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