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Updated theater gets the spotlight

Joseph Fletcher, manager at the Veterans Memorial Theatre leads members of the arts community on a tour of the upgraded facility at the Feb. 16 Arts Alliance Davis meeting. (Wendy Weitzel/Courtesy photo)


By Wendy Weitzel

More than 20 members of the arts community gathered Feb. 16 to see the newly improved Veterans Memorial Theatre and collaborate about their work.

The occasion was the Arts Alliance Davis meeting, open to anyone interested in or involved with local arts.

Joseph Fletcher, manager at the city’s Veterans Memorial Theatre, explained the recent upgrades to the city’s aging theater technology in the 1974-built facility. They include updated computer, video, lighting, and other electronics systems and technology.

Fletcher was hired in October 2019 – shortly before the pandemic mandated closure of theater operations for nearly two years – and led the improvements at the facility. Rachel Hartsough, the city of Davis’ arts and culture manager, said, “Fletcher was incredible about using this down time that we unfortunately had from COVID to apply for and receive multiple grants. Nearly $100,000 of upgrades to the theater came from Shuttered Venue Operators grants, and it’s really transformed the usability of the theater.”

That grant money went almost all into materials. Fletcher said he and his staff did much of the setup, saving the city what would have cost an additional 25 to 50 percent. Separately, the theater will get a much-needed new roof starting in March.

“The goal is to continue to reimagine its use as a more functional, more useful facility in the future,” Hartsough said.

Fees to rent the theater are significant but grants are available from the city, and frequently awarded to local groups that apply. The only city-originated program run out of the theater is the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker.”

The theater and adjacent Veterans Memorial Center work under separate reservation systems but can be combined for big events. Fletcher suggested contacting the theater first (at 530-747-5862), to see if it’s available. The city wants it to be known as a holistic complex, Hartsough said, that can be used for conferences, celebrations and other gatherings.

Fletcher said one of the next steps is to push for a remodeling of the area behind the stage, like the dressing rooms. The capacity there is 70 people, which prevents some large dance groups, for example, from renting. A few upgrades could bring that number to at least 100. Details about the facility are found on the city’s website, https://www.cityofdavis.org, and searching for Veterans Memorial Theatre.

Each Arts Alliance Davis meeting includes introductions and announcements from participants, who share ideas and updates. Those included:

A discussion on artists being compensated for their work in a sustainable way. Shelly Gilbride, executive director of International House Davis and chair of Arts Alliance Davis, said, “Artists deserve to be paid. Facilities, systems and administrators need to be paid. We want to keep it accessible, and recognize that the work we are doing is valuable.”

Sarah Marsh Krauter of Bike City Theatre said, “This is my job. I don’t do work for free. I don’t ask my accountant to work for free.”

Proposition 28, which will put $1 billion into California schools for arts education, was also a topic. Gilbride believes that about $800,000 of $1 million coming to the Davis Joint Unified School District will be dedicated to hiring people, many of whom will be music and art educators.

“It’s a huge deal,” Gilbride said. Since there aren’t enough credentialed arts teachers to fill the current need, “we are hopeful that the state will work with school districts to hire teaching artists, and create more pathways for arts educators to work in the schools.”

At the Davis Arts Center, Executive Director Stacie Frerichs is excited to offer spring classes and regular summer camps, with registration beginning March 1. “We’re really proud that we’ve been able to figure out how to do summer camps. We’ve talked with many organizations that have not been able to in the post-COVID environment.”

Frerichs is also leading a move to ask the Davis City Council to declare March as Arts Education Month and April as Arts and Culture Month. She has a draft proclamation available to those who would like to push for such declarations in their town.

Jessie Nakahara, arts associate with the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs program, said there is a lot of demand for arts programming for children and teens, especially for middle- and low-income families. She encouraged the group to consider the use of under-utilized spaces in town to provide more programming.

The outgoing editor of the entertainment calendar publication The Dirt introduced a new editor. Hanna Nakano assumes that role as of the March publication, taking over for Ashley Muir Bruhn, who led it since 2019. Bruhn rebranded The Davis Dirt, and launched a new print edition in March 2020. When the pandemic canceled entertainment events, it halted publication but kept up with online listings until resuming print a couple of months ago. It invites the community to submit and preview upcoming events on its website, https://thedirt.online/.

Sculptor Jord Nelsen spoke about his efforts to maintain Third Space art collective as a resource for emerging artists. It completed the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and has a facility at 17 Arboretum Drive, Unit C. It charges a $50 annual membership, and fees for use of workshop or music spaces. There are two resident artists, with room for two or three more. Contact Nelsen at [email protected].

James Williams from Community Mercantile, a Davis business that opened in September, spoke about how it helps people reuse household items and keep them out of the landfill. It’s at 622 Cantrill Drive. “We get some really beautiful things,” he said. “We’re looking for people to come teach about reuse.”

Natalie Nelson, director of Pence Gallery, discussed the Second Friday ArtAbout in downtown Davis, which on Feb. 10 had its best turnout since the pandemic. She and other organizers help match artists with businesses willing to display artwork for the event.

Arts Alliance Davis was formed a few years ago as a grassroots effort to give artists and their supporters the opportunity to gather, share ideas and create meaningful impact. Meetings, held at least quarterly at local arts-related establishments, are open to anyone. Other 2023 meetings are April 13, June 1, July 20, Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, from 10:30 to noon, with locations to be announced.

For more information on Arts Alliance Davis, to post an event or opportunity, contact Shelly Gilbride at [email protected]. To subscribe to the mailing list, go to http://artsalliancedavis.org/.

Learn more about local and regional arts, Arts Alliance Davis and city of Davis Arts and Cultural Affairs through the following channels:


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