On the eve of the Monday groundbreaking for the new city-sponsored arts complex in a former school in midtown Sacramento, one of the tenants says it’s struggling to come up with the estimated $30,000 needed to renovate its building.
The $5 million provided by the city and $1.5 million in private donations is being poured into fixing the grounds and main building of the former Fremont School for Adults on N Street, which will house groups like the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Philharmonic.
The Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange won’t share in any of that money. The small nonprofit will pay $2,000 a month to rent an outbuilding in the Fremont complex that formerly served as a cafeteria. It’s relying on volunteer labor to tackle a list of needed improvements that its director says includes a new floor, new kitchen appliances, a new bathroom and improvements to the roof. Challenges abound. On Friday, for example, the water was shut off because the crews working in the main building needed it for other purposes.
Center director Saara Burga, 48, now spends her free afternoons scraping paint off floors and walls wearing her traditional six-inch heels. When Burga is not making renovations to the building with the help of three volunteers, she finds ways to raise money for the center’s move.
“I clean houses,” Burga said. “I do what I have to do. We’re a small organization. We don’t have the power large groups like the ballet have.”
Burga founded the nonprofit center in 2010. It raises money for its outreach programs by offering samba dance classes, Portuguese classes, capoeira sports classes and selling Brazilian fried snacks. But the center’s focus is on social work. It helps underprivileged kids find purpose in Brazilian arts like samba and drumming. Burga also connects Brazilian citizens with legal and translation services.
But in order to expand, the Brazilian center needed to find a more geographically accessible location than its current home in a commercial building in Rosemont, Burga said. The opportunity came in late 2014.
The E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts project has been in the works since 2002, said Richard Rich, chairman of the complex’s board of directors. But the recession dried up private donations, and the project stagnated. It later restarted and finally found a home at the former Fremont School for Adults in late 2013.
Around that time, Rich began searching for a small organization that benefited minority groups to fill up one spot in the complex. He found a match in the Brazilian center and offered Burga the space in 2014.
Rich said he understands the stress of trying to come up with money for renovations, but he took issue with the idea that the Brazilian center has a heavier burden than the nonprofit arts groups that make up the rest of the tenant list. The main building is being renovated to a base level, but all the tenants are responsible for doing their own specific improvements, he said.
While it’s true that none of the renovation money is being spent on the former cafeteria, Rich said, the Brazilian center was given lower rent to compensate. It’s also the only tenant that has a commercial kitchen. “It was a functioning cafeteria two years ago,” he said. “I don’t know if it needs all that stuff. Would it be nice if it had all that stuff? Sure.”
Burga said she was aware the building would need to be fixed up, but she wasn’t prepared for the expenses. She estimates the cost will be close to $30,000.
A fashion show to raise money for the Brazilian center is scheduled for July 11 at the Warehouse Artists Lofts on R Street. Auctioneer David Sobon is also willing to host a benefit for the Brazilian center in its new building, Burga said, but the date keeps being postponed because renovations are moving slowly.
Students at the Brazilian center have been working on the walls and flooring on their spare time. Roguiato Sane Wambar, 33, is one of the volunteers and a samba student at the Brazilian center. She works as a nursing assistant full-time, but she feels a responsibility to help the center every other afternoon.
“This is my second home. Saara is my second mom,” Sane Wambar said.
Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange