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California City Solutions: Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts Creates Community Pride, Expands Economic Development

August 28, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts was submitted in 2014 for the Economic Development through the Arts award category.
The city of Grass Valley is a former historic gold mining town that used to provide goods and services to the mines and the workers of the area. Even as the industry shifted and larger retail came into Grass Valley, the city continued to pride itself on its historic downtown with its small shops, restaurants and hotels, with some occupying buildings that date back to 1850. In an effort to attract more people to the historic downtown the city partnered with a small nonprofit to renovate an old auto dealership to create the Center for the Arts, increasing economic development and community vitality.
Built in downtown Grass Valley in 1941, the 21,000 square foot facility became an eye sore with the dealership’s closure. Squatters moved in and the building fell into disrepair.
In the late 1990s, a group of community members had the inspiration to form a nonprofit to renovate the dilapidated auto dealership into a community arts space. They named it the Center for the Arts. Crews removed garbage, repaired roof leaks and installed seats, risers and a dance floor from a bowling alley that was torn down. The community backed a Front and Center campaign to update a façade added on the building in 2005. With the renovations, the facility now includes an intimate 300 seat main stage theater, two visual art galleries, classroom space and a 90 seat black box theater.
In an effort to boost the arts and create a vibe, the city of Grass Valley became the official center collaborator and contributed $250,000 for substantial upgrades including bathrooms, audio, disability compliance, gallery enhancements and ticketing facilities and facilities planning.
Now more than a dozen youth programs are hosted at the center including: Summer Visual Arts Camp, Teen Writing Workshop, Circus Camp, and Rock the Presidents. The budget has grown from $80,000 to over $1.94 million, with more than 40 nonprofit partners, scores of business partners and approximately 180,000 visitors to the center's events each year. The center employs 16 staff members, three contract employees and 840 trained volunteers, presenting 125 ticketed events, not including those running multiple days. More than 32 art exhibits were presented in the galleries, with the center now hosting the Fall Colors Open Studio, coordinating more than 70 artists.
The Center for the Arts also collaborates with Grass Valley’s Veterans Auditorium, which can host approximately 900 people. The center is working with the auditorium to improve the comfort of its seats by launching a program called "OPERATION: NAME A SEAT in Honor of our Veterans" to add 528 new seat backs, each named in honor of a veteran.
The arts in Grass Valley and Nevada County have blossomed thanks to the transformation of the center. People come from around the region and northern part of the state to view quality performances and participate in educational events. The center estimates that over 30 percent of the most ticketed event audiences come from outside of the local zip code. Grass Valley’s local businesses are very supportive of the center and also avid attendees of many events.

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