Our “Sierra Stages”: Arts and culture a catalyst for growth in rural areas

The introduction to the fall issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

IN THE EARLY ELIZABETHAN ERA, English acting troupes performed in inns, college halls and private homes. Then along came London’s Globe Theater in 1599, showcasing Shakespeare’s best-known plays. Theater became a popular pastime.

Good performing arts have always been good for the economy. In September, we visited Ashland, OR, jokingly called the “town that Shakespeare built.” We spent the weekend at a local hotel, ate out, shopped, and saw Julius Caesar and Henry IV at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s tree-covered 4-acre campus. The Festival’s economic impact in Oregon is estimated at more than $250 million annually.

In the foothills, The Center for the Arts in historic downtown Grass Valley has become a regional hub for performing arts. In over 150 performances a year, The Center attracts patrons from Nevada County as well as Placer County, Sacramento, Tahoe, Reno and the Bay Area. Its patrons contribute an estimated $1 million annually in event-related spending to the area.

“Golden Age” for Local Arts

This year The Center has helped usher in a “Golden Age” of arts and culture in the foothills, culminating with Grass Valley-Nevada City and Truckee being selected as two of the 14 statewide Cultural Districts by the California Arts Council. “The Center is one of the most exciting presenting venues in Northern California,” as the Nevada County Arts Council said in its nomination letter for the Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District.

The capital campaign — estimated at $3.8 million — calls for adding 200 seats in the main theater, adding more comfortable seats, state-of-the-art sound and lighting, an expanded stage, new restrooms, improved HVAC and more.

Other cultural assets such as Julia Morgan’s NorthStar House in Grass Valley, and the Miners Foundry Cultural Center and Nevada Theatre in Nevada City also have undergone various capital improvements — helping to prepare them for the five-year Cultural District program.

KVMR Community Radio and the Nevada Theatre Commission teamed up to complete critical repairs to the back wall of the theater, build a much-needed backstage area and provide a home for KVMR. The $4 million project was completed in 2015.

Also in western Nevada County, the Penn Valley Community Foundation has been seeking donations to build a $3.5 million, 12,500 sq.-ft. community center that would be home to InConcert Sierra and the Sierra Master Chorale.

In the Sierra, Truckee is seeking support for an estimated $30 million project called “The Stages at Northstar,” which includes a theater and amphitheater. “The Stages at Northstar will provide a substantial positive year-round economic impact to the greater Tahoe region,” according to the Tahoe Regional Arts Foundation.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

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