Sacramento City Council approves investment in arts campus

The City Council made a $5 million investment in Sacramento’s cultural institutions on Tuesday night by approving a plan to convert a closed adult school into an office and rehearsal campus for the city’s premier performing arts groups.

By a 6-0 vote, the council agreed to sublease the former Fremont School for Adults in midtown to a collective that includes the Sacramento Ballet, the opera and the philharmonic orchestra. Other, smaller arts groups are also expected to be part of the project, dubbed the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts.

The council’s decision was the culmination of years of lobbying and stalled efforts by the arts community to develop a new space in the central city. Supporters of the plan said construction should begin early next spring on the $6.5 million project.

The project is under a tight timeline; the ballet’s lease at its current space on K Street expires in August. The ballet would provide a majority of the ongoing funding to the new studio project.

The proposal was thrown into disarray earlier this month when one of the original anchor tenants – California Musical Theatre – abruptly withdrew from the plan. But that change opened the door for smaller groups to vie for space inside the studios.

Earlier Tuesday, members of the Latino Arts Network held a press conference to criticize the City Council for what they called an unfair distribution of arts funds in the community. They said the council had a “Eurocentric view” of the arts,sponsoring only mainstream groups like the ballet and opera, while shying away from ethnic arts groups.

Members of minority arts organizations spoke in favor of the project at the council meeting later in the evening, expressing interest in filling the gap left by California Musical Theatre.

“We have 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of space we didn’t have before” as a result of the musical theater’s departure, said Richard Rich, president of the Studios Operating Co. “We have an opportunity to fill it with a collaborative mix. The idea has always been that when you bring together different ilk of arts organizations, they rub shoulders and you don’t know what will happen.”

Rich said he has already discussed the project with Latino, Asian and African American arts organizations.

City funding for the project would come from two sources.

Half the money – $2.5 million – would come from money the city receives for maintaining the Cal-EPA building next to City Hall. The other $2.5 million would come from future loan repayments made to the city by the Crocker Art Museum.

Arts groups have pledged another $1.5 million toward the construction costs.

The city’s contribution will not be fully granted until the Studios Operating Co. has a business plan that shows it has tenants for 80 percent of the “exclusive use space” in the building. The group must also show it has a stable enough collective to maintain an annual operating budget of $253,000.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents midtown, said the project creates “an opportunity to create a more cohesive arts community.”

City school board member Patrick Kennedy said the center would help “rectify” the cuts the school district has made to arts education programs “in a very creative, very broad partnership.”

But Ray Tatar, who operates the R25 Arts Complex in midtown, objected to the city subsidizing large arts programs. Tatar’s collective houses several small organizations – including theater groups, a playwrights’ collaborative and a poetry workshop – and he said he is worried his tenants will jump to the new facility.

“I can do it for 20 years (without a city investment) and they need $5 million,” Tatar said.

Council members first approved the financing plan earlier this year as part of a broader package of arts funding. That package, which also included money for the Community Center Theater and Crocker Art Museum, was designed to send a message to the arts community that it would not be ignored as the city moves forward with a $258 million contribution to a new downtown sports arena.

“We are not just about building an arena downtown,” Councilman Steve Cohn said.