Our Mission: “To promote the arts and arts education in Tuolumne County, thereby enriching the lives of residents and visitors.”
An Historic Overview of the Central Sierra Arts Council
In 1970 renowned musician, conductor and supporter of the local arts community, Carl Anton Wirth welcomed like-minded friends and associates to his Twain Harte cabin deck on warm summer nights to enjoy impromptu performances. The visitors enjoyed music and new friendships and ideas were formulated during these times. Throughout these summer months one significant idea came into focus – which was to create an arts organization that would unite the growing number of artists and musicians, who were finding their way in increasing numbers to Tuolumne County. The outcome was the inception of the organization which they named: The Central Sierra Arts Council [CSAC].
Several years later, the California Arts Council [CAC] was formed with the express purpose of providing the opportunity of Arts enrichment to all Californians. In 1976 California’s State Legislature created the California Arts Council, because they acknowledged that everyone’s life is enriched by the arts, and they recognized that art is the natural flow of the human mind, and that encouraging and nurturing our experiences with the arts benefits all of us – both young and old.
CSAC became a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit membership organization in 1978. In its nearly 40 years of existence CSAC has never secured any dependable, regular [annual] stabilizing, local government funding despite its association with the State And Local Partnership [SLPP] grant from the California Arts Council [CAC]. Because of that partnership CSAC is designated as Tuolumne County’s mandated Public Arts Agency. The goal of which is to provide a continuing Arts Education presence and to strengthen our local economy through the arts.
Despite the lack of consistent local government funding throughout those years, CSAC has existed and indeed thrived, through hard work, a committed membership, leadership, boards of directors, and constant fundraising to accomplish this mandate.
SOME OF OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS THROUGH THE YEARS:
- 1976: CSAC founded the Sonora Bach Festival, which now operates under its own 501 (c)(3), but has continued to work in cooperation with CSAC. During the following years, CSAC collaborated with the older organization; Mother Lode Art Association founded in 1952 by participating in art shows, exhibitions and teaching art classes.
- 1987: CSAC established the In-Focus Juried Photography Exhibition, which has launched the careers of many professional art photographers, and is one of central California’s most popular photo competitions.
- 1990: CSAC’s ARTS Reach to Schools Program [ARTS] is established in collaboration with the CA ARTS Council. Currently serving students for more than 20 years, ARTS has a long list of accomplishments. This flagship program serves over 4000 children in grades k-12 each year in Tuolumne County and employs numerous local artists that make themselves available to teach their art and their craft in local schools through a catalog selection process managed by CSAC; hosts an annual student art show displaying over 200 individual pieces of art; presents an annual concert Youth Symphony of the Sierra; and has continually and consistently brought strong advocacy for local arts education programs to our communities in the county. The California Arts Council views CSAC’s Arts Reach to Schools as a model program for rural communities.
- The late 1990’s also brought a major change in direction for CSAC. The creation of a true Arts Center and adjoining Theatre Company space in downtown Sonora. At that time, an innovative, skilled and Creative Director, Julie Mushet became a part of the staff. A highly visible presence was created during the leadership and board presidencies of Dick Bergsund, David Duval, Constance O’Connor~Gahagan (then, Varvandakis) and John Lytle. The leadership of the organization run by a strong board of directors  comprised of Columbia College President, Jim Riggs, the Editor of the Union Democrat, Jeff White; Bankers, CPA’s, nationally known artists performers and other community leaders/Directors, along with representation of local quasi-governmental leaders contributed greatly to the success, influence and stature of Central Sierra Arts Council in the community. The membership base tripled during this period to over 425 members. A close working relationship and creative exchange with Columbia College also thrived during this period. These were the years that world-class, nationally and internationally known arts and music became a tour de force in Tuolumne County. The Arts Council enjoyed a period of highly respected prominence and stature locally, regionally and throughout the state. This was also the time period of the Dome Investigative Steering Committee – 20 local community leaders organized and, chaired by CSAC President Connie O’Connor to explore the development of an historic piece of property in Sonora – known as “The Dome”. The committee also represented several founding members of the Sonora Area Foundation. DISC met for 4 years working on the development of a plan for the Historic Dome Campus becoming a Community Cultural Arts Center. The committee ceased to meet in 2004 when 9 members of the CSAC board resigned. This period also saw significant programs, exhibitions and theatre productions along with an on-site arts academy teaching facility located in the main gallery space. Multi disciplinary art instruction was taught on a regular basis for the years that CSAC occupied this space [1997 - 2006] – classes were for students of all ages. This endeavor reinforced the indicator of the quality and abundance of art potential in our county and defined it as an arts destination and its influence to be a major tourist component in the county’s growing economic development. Major concerts and performing arts staged and promoted by CSAC became another destination draw, such as annual performances, through CSAC, by George Winston, American pianist; Cornelius Bumpus, jazz singer; and Kitty Margolis, internationally known jazz recording artist.
- In 2000, the internationally renowned Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, performed as a part of the CSAC exhibition, “The Art of the Instrument & Bow Maker” – exquisite hand-crafted orchestral bows made in Tuolumne County by resident Ralph Ashmead, became a momentous occasion in the Sonora Bach Festival’s 30th anniversary year celebration. A $100 plate fundraising dinner was held amidst the exhibition in the Gallery at 208 Green Street shared with Stage 3 Theater and attended by 50 people. This singular event contributed greatly to the already established music scene which already included major music productions, concert series and festivals that showcased jazz, rock, classical and bluegrass.
- Major art exhibits during this time were:
In 2002 – “Through the Needle’s Eye” – a national exhibit in its 3rd national tour since 1962 with only 2 stops scheduled in California that year - 1 of which was a “stop” in Sonora that was attended by hundreds.In 2001 – “Under the Tuscan Sun” – Dick Bergsund Memorial Retrospective raised $14,000.00 for CSAC.*In 2004 – “Trees of Yosemite” – Della Taylor Hoss and Chiura Obata 75th Anniversary Retrospective – with an exhibition budget of $150,000.00 – this was the same show that ‘closed’ San Francisco’s de Young Museum for renovation and rebuilding in 2004 – and was mounted first by the Central Sierra Arts Council in Sonora, CA.
* These restricted funds were established as a source for a newly created CSAC Apprenticeship position in collaboration with Columbia College.This period of on-going, prodigious local art exhibits and events, combined with other innovative arts programs, marked these years as enviable. CSAC celebrated a community wide 30th Birthday Celebration with over 250 attendees held at the newly restored Opera Hall in 2000 showcasing our rich history and arts legacy.This epic period was also defined by significant financial backing from private foundations, individual supporters and governmental (city, county & state) agencies that recognized and provided the necessary annual funding to ensure the success and viability of a well-funded and positioned arts alliance within the community to ensure a better quality of life for all.After the departure of Executive Director, Julie Mushet a
new E.D. was hired after a national search. Deanna Dechaine served for 6 months in 2002. She would later be rehired as ED in 2011 and served for a period of 9 months until illness forced her to retire. She was initially hired for her business acumen and to facilitate CSAC’s better business practices. Art Direction during this time period was served by CSAC Board Members, Don Hukari, Leslie Hurst and Diane Sanguinetti.
- 2003: CSAC’s Summer ARTS Camp began under the leadership of then Executive Director, Hoyt Cory. Held annually for one week during the month of June in Columbia Historic State Park. Now in its 9th year , this program has served more than 675 children, employed more than 90 individual artists and more than 70 high school art interns and a paid Camp Director. Each year the camp works in close association with the Columbia State Park merchants and California State Parks and Recreation personnel in support of this popular CSAC program. This is another example of CSAC’s long history of Arts Education, especially for youth and the stated mission of CSAC.
- 2005 – 2008: CSAC sponsored The ART Annex, a relatively small workshop, classroom setting, located upstairs in the Barretta Building, where more than 1200 people, ages 2 to 92 participated in arts activities, classes and seminars, employing more than 40 art teachers across a wide spectrum of art disciplines and continuing CSAC’s mission to “promote arts education in Tuolumne County”. Local “Storyteller” BZ Smith was employed to run this program.
- 2006: CSAC’s George Post Gallery was created as a ‘income model’ for CSAC, featuring 15 local artists in a retail gallery setting. For two years, the Post Gallery was managed by local artists Diane Sanguinetti and Leslie Hurst, while CSAC resided in a portion of the Ventana Gallery in Sonora. These gallery members were instrumental in keeping CSAC operating by providing rental income for their space in the Ventana Gallery. In 2010 the George Post Gallery operated under the auspices of a collaborative model. This narrowing of the focus of the Central Sierra Arts Council however, created a exclusionary profile for the first time in its history through the concentrated effort of only representing those few member artists of the George Post Gallery to the exclusion of all other artistic mediums, disciplines, and venues. Other programs, and artists heretofore represented and promoted by CSAC, now found themselves unrepresented in the local art scene and presenting, exhibition arena.
- 2007 – 2008: With $35,000 of support from the James Irvine Foundation, CSAC produced the Foothill Farmlands Arts Festival in partnership with Farms of Tuolumne County and Stanislaus National Forest. In two years more than 27 local farms were featured, over 400 local artists and musicians were hired to present at the festival. More than 275 local school children participated in art-inspired, educational visits to local farms. High Country ranch families were honored at two festival events that focused on the history and culture of Sierra cattle ranching. More than 4,000 people visited the Foothill Farmlands ARTS Festival during these two years. CSAC and the Foothill Farmlands Arts Festival created alliances with 17 other different community organizations and brought in more than 40 local business sponsors. Sadly, the 2008 U.S. economic crisis had a huge impact on this event and the event expired after these two years. Olivia Armstrong was the Executive Director with BZ Smith as the Event Director.
- 2007: The California Arts Council selected Tuolumne County to be one of only 20 [out of 56] California counties to participate in a new program: Poetry Out Loud [POL]. A program featuring a poetry recitation competition for high school age students. Tuolumne County’s “POL” competition has been a successful CSAC arts education program since that time and continues today. In 2012 Tuolumne County’s POL program sent a Sonora High School student to the State Final Competition in Sacramento and had the honor to have this local student place 3rd in the State of California. Up to now, this is the only program not directed at the elementary level ages. BZ Smith, storyteller and Rick Foster, playwright have steered this successful program from its inception.
- 2008 – 2013: Artists-In-Schools residency grants were awarded by the California Arts Council to CSAC. This funding has brought in-depth artist contact between school children and teachers with at least six professional artists over the entire school year. Sonora Elementary, Columbia Elementary and Curtis Creek, Jamestown, Soulsbyville and Summerville elementary schools have participated. In 2012, Jamestown Elementary School won state-wide recognition and was a front page feature on the CAC statewide newsletter for its exemplary mural project on one of the school building
- 2010: CSAC Began a new Art Partners’ Program to assist fledgling arts organizations by allowing them to work under our 501 (c)(3) status. “Art Partners” include: The Word Project, Revamp Recyclery, Veterans History Project. In October 2010 CSAC Board of Directors, under the leadership of President, Dona Williams, Dianne Shannon, BZ Smith and E.D. Deanna Dechaine~Maurer, conducted an updated strategic planning process to re-align goals and activities of the organization, this had not been done since 2002. Along with this advancing progress, the organization relocated to a gallery space at 193 S. Washington Street.
- 2011 – 2012: With the advent of 2011, 4 additional board members were recruited and seated, bringing the total board back up to 9 and the goal of seating a full working board of 15 by the end of the year. Some of these members were prior leaders of the organization a dozen years before when CSAC experienced and enjoyed its most exemplary organizational life. The steadfast leadership of CSAC for the decade of the new century beginning in 2004 was instrumental in keeping the organization alive and functioning. Artists, Leslie Hurst, Don Hukari, Dianne Sanguinetti all are to be commended for their work, along with Gail Rodd who served for more than 8 years as the Treasurer of CSAC. Current Treasurer Jason Reed has returned to that former role and like Gail, has donated 100’s of hours to the fiscal health of the organization.
- In the summer of 2011 a major art exhibition: “Yosemite & The California Trails of Jo Mora” was produced in collaboration with the Jo Mora Trust [Carmel California] and a Mora family member of Jo Mora’s with a budget of $10,000 raised by Event Chair Connie O’Connor- raising an additional $12,000 to publish Jo Mora’s 1904 Journal: “Dust to Granite: The Art & Writing of Jo Mora”. These journals are a continuing revenue source at 100% profit for CSAC. The rest of 2011 and throughout 2012 saw a rebirth of CSAC as a representational force for all of the arts disciplines in Tuolumne County for for whom they exist to promote, encourage and educate. During 2012 the following figures represent the outlay and effort[s] of CSAC to fulfill their mandated role. [See Appendix A for figures]. During the Summer of 2012 CSAC mounted the exhibition: “The Woven Art of the Andes: The Fabric of a Culture” as their second major exhibition in a year. Popular, educational, and compelling this exhibition brought many cross sections of participants, visitors, classroom exploration and the wonderful addition of a family of llamas that visited and entertained at the Gallery almost every weekend for 2 months. Lectures and slide shows completed the complex exhibit.
- Tuolumne County’s support of its arts council is steadily increasing again after a hiatus of nearly seven years. In November, 2010 CSAC launched a community matching fund raising campaign under the direction of returning CSAC President Connie O’Connor and Executive Director Deanna Deschaine Maurer. In less than three months donations of more than $10,000 were received and were matched by The Wise Family Trust. A wonderful association provided by long-time, former board member and CSAC supporter, the late Millie [and John] Wise. In that same period membership grew from 100 to 250 members – albeit a modest number compared to the 450 member organization of the 1990’s; but, a significant increase over the past few years. Many of our former supporters and major funding sources such as the Sonora Area Foundation and other corporate sponsors were once again supporting CASC financially and new ones were being sought out. Moving CSAC to a new location and providing gallery and exhibition spaces at 193 South Washington Street was an investment in the future by bringing back those former supporters, visitors, sponsors and volunteers. Once again we were in a position to offer art classes, various multi-disciplinary workshops to our members and to the community for the first time in several years.We’re continuing to refine and expand our recruitment efforts for new board members; who will bring unique and needed skills to our Board in arts education, marketing, community development, capital campaign management and increased eco-tourism opportunities. Our short term goal for the next 1 to 2 years is to complete our board development phase to bring the total representation to the former strength of 21, including some county ex-officio seats, such as TC Visitors Bureau, TC Film Commission, a TC Board of Supervisors representative, TC Historical Society, and the TC Economic Development Authority, Bach Festival, Columbia College and other non-profit, like-minded, culturally linked organizations. The most significant development during the past summer of 2012 is that in September the County Board of Supervisors awarded a $45,000 grant to CSAC. This is the first similar award amount since the 1999, 2000, and 2001 $30,000 grant awards plus one in 2002 for $80,000. CSAC is hoping to also bring the City of Sonora into the funding discussion, especially now that we have moved to the Historic Dome Campus and opened the Kids Art Studies Academy [KASA] at that location. This long anticipated space will, once again make it possible for CSAC to serve the residents and students of all ages in the exploration into skills-based, multi-disciplined art experiences while also maintaining our programs and continuing to fulfill our main mission of arts education.The work of the Central Sierra Arts Council continues to inform, educate, entertain, and provide enjoyment and enrichment for our constituents: residents, visitors, students, seniors, and all of those who value the benefit of the arts in our minds and lives.
Constance O’Connor, Executive Director