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  • Center for the Arts has big plans

    But theater expansion project will put shows on the road

    Karen Newell Young

    Nevada City Advocate 

    The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley is expanding from 310 seats to 500, with an additional stage area, a new lobby and a premier sound system. And as news has spread, some rumors have also taken hold.

    Amber Jo Manuel, the Center’s new executive director, wants to make it clear that although the theater will close until renovation is completed in March 2019, the Off Center Theatre, the Veteran’s Memorial Hall, World Fest and various performances will continue – some in different locations in the county.

    The $3.8 million capital campaign to renovate the main stage theater has already raised $1.5 million. Beginning in the fall, the public will be invited to participate and community events will be planned. 

    The renovation will not only include more seating, but a 30-foot bar with drinks on tap; the new flooring will mean an enhanced dance floor and the acoustics will be sharpened with state-of-the-art sound for hearing-impaired visitors.

    Manuel said that hosting performances at the Vets Hall and other locations requires big overhead, in terms of staff and transportation. With the renovation, “we will be able to present the acts that you can’t do here currently,” she said. “We will be able to have larger dance concerts and larger but intimate seated concerts. We are changing our financial model and expanding our offerings.”

    The center intends more flexibility to attract big-name artists and intimate cabaret performances as well, she added.

    MeyerSound, located in Berkeley, donated thousands of dollars worth of sound equipment. Center patrons Jeff Leiter and Mikhail Graham solicited and stewarded the gift.

    Julie Baker, former executive director of the Center, will return to manage performances in a series called CenterOnTheGo, presenting events off site at locations such as the Foothill Events Center, the Grass Valley Elks Lodge and the North Star House. The second Sunday of each month will present interviews with local artists and performers. 

    Manuel wants everyone to know that they are literally on the go. “We are going to be creative,” she said. “We are expanding our camps program, offering more youth programs than before. We’re bringing arts education to the forefront. We are committed to our mission to make sure that our youth are brought into the mix.”

    Manuel, a native of Nevada City, worked for the last 17 years in marketing and development for non-for-profit arts organizations in New York City and the Bay Area. She previously served as director of development at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, where she led a $33 million capital campaign for the organization’s second stage. 

    After first serving as acting director since last fall, Manuel started as executive director in January.

    About the Photo: 


    Kristin Johansen, left, new marketing manager for the Center for the Arts, and Amber Jo Manuel, new executive director, flank a  poster showing upcoming productions. The couple are spearheading a new phase in the Center’s history, as major renovations to  the Main Stage unfold until completion in March 2019.

    Photo by Karen Newell Young

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    Rendering of the Main Stage renovations, which will increase seating from 310 to 500, will allow more flexibility in programming. Various performances at other venues will be held during expansion.

    Rendering by Jeff George