Trying to build a new performing arts center in Sacramento is a massive production. So it’s encouraging that a study task force is asking the right questions and reaching out to key actors throughout the region.
The overarching issue, however, remains a complete mystery – whether a new venue is even financially feasible. And City Hall can’t keep putting off fixes needed to the Community Center Theater, especially to improve access for disabled patrons.
The City Council endorsed the task force in April, as it sought to explore the possibility of a brand-new arts center before investing tens of millions of dollars more into the 40-year-old, 2,500-seat Community Center Theater.
Judging from the task force’s six-month report to the City Council on Thursday night, the most challenging piece by far will be how to pay for a new center – not just to construct it, but also to operate it.
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As yet, no sizable private benefactor has emerged. Some local arts groups are still scraping by after the recession. And the city has a full plate with the new arena and a growing list of other public projects.
Before the task force even knows how much money would be needed, it has more research to do on the size and design of a new center that would work for all the arts groups that would use it. While California Musical Theatre wants 2,000 or more seats for its Broadway series, the Sacramento Ballet, Opera and Philharmonic prefer a smaller venue for most of their performances. One option is to build multiple, different sized stages, but there’s also technology to change the seating configuration and capacity of a single theater.
Another key issue for the task force, whose 13 members were picked by Mayor Kevin Johnson, is how a new center, most likely in downtown Sacramento, would complement the relatively new Mondavi Center in Davis and Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom. Importantly, leaders from both are on the task force, so the chances for cooperation, rather than conflict, are much better.
The task force is setting its sights high, declaring that its goal is a venue that is both “uniquely Sacramento” and “world-class,” that raises Sacramento’s national arts profile and that keeps talent here and attracts new creative people.
The task force plans to present another update by February before presenting its final recommendations next April. Then the council is to debate how to proceed. Its decision will help determine the future of arts in the Sacramento region for decades to come.