Viewpoints: Sacramento can’t thrive without the arts

Can Sacramento stand up for grand art? Should we expect to be a world-class city without being something more than an important center of government and a professional sports town?

Sacramento, as the capital city of California, represents a state that is historically on the forefront of societal change. When one thinks of major cities across the state and the nation, it’s difficult to imagine a “destination community” that attracts business and cultural growth without the presence of a lively arts community, as exemplified by a resident orchestra, ballet or opera company.

Sacramento has struggled to support a strong performing arts community for years. All three of our major performing arts organizations have faced financial difficulties throughout their histories.

Our current efforts as a community, though worthy, are looking outside and at potentially great expense to broaden the appeal of our city by making this a “major league” city. Sacramento has shown its willingness to commit at least $255 million in public money to help build a new arena for the Kings. Now there’s an effort to make us a professional soccer town, with all the development and expense that might include.

Local political and business leaders should be making similar efforts to strengthen and support our major arts organizations, which have for decades provided the cultural underpinning that one expects of great cities.

Sacramento’s arts organizations have drawn professional musicians and performers from across the nation and the world. The presence of these professionals lifts the quality of other organizations such as the Choral Society, Master Singers and Music Circus, where they perform through independent contracts.

From a dollars-and-cents perspective, investing in our major arts organizations is a bargain. A major overhaul of the 40-year-old Community Center Theater – to bring it up to date and make it compliant with federal disability law – would cost $52.5 million, far less than the public investment in the new Kings arena.

We see that nearby communities have seen this logic with the Mondavi Center in Davis and the Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom. World-class artists are now being drawn to these newer facilities. Is Sacramento really willing to be outshone by outlying communities?

What is needed is a commitment on the part of the city of Sacramento, its City Council and the community at large to support major arts organizations in finding sustainable funding for a state-of-the-art performance venue within the city and continuing production of professional-level performances of great works old and new.

Were it not for the Sacramento Philharmonic, Opera and Ballet, it would less likely that we could achieve the cultural greatness to which we aspire. If we are to envision ourselves as a world-class city, we must be ready to include the grand arts in that vision.