Creativity in all its forms is celebrated, nurtured, and given life at the Gualala Arts Center, on the remote stretch of coast at the northern edge of Sonoma County.
"We're kind of tucked away up here, but there's a lot going on," said Mark Hancock, publicity coordinator for Gualala Arts. "We have over 100 advertized performances and events each year, and over 1,000 calendared events. … Something happens at the center almost every day and every night."
That includes concerts, live theater, dance, and cultural presentations; fairs and festivals of all types; and monthly art exhibits. Don't forget the classes and workshops in painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, pottery, quilting, cooking, Tai Chi, aerobics, and karate (to name a few); children's activities including a two-week summer camp; lectures on a variety of subjects; and a wide range of interest groups.
And that's probably just a partial list — possibly more than a few items were left out. Plus, the center's facilities are rented for about four to eight weddings or other private events each year. It's a busy place.
Here's a quick overview of Gualala Art's annual events:
Whale & Jazz Festival in April and May includes concerts, jazz-related artwork, jazz films, information/education about whales, and the annual Chowder Challenge, which includes a traditional New Orleans jazz concert.
Wine Tasting and Auction is held the Saturday before Mother's Day in May, with 25 premium wineries pouring award-winning wines. A silent auction typically includes more than 80 items. The tasting immediately follows the annual Soroptimist International of the Mendocino Sonoma Coast Architectural Tour.
Gualala Fine Arts Fair on Memorial Day weekend in May brings artists and artisans who set up booths on the center's grounds. Many of the artists create pieces during this festival, which also includes music and food.
Gualala Arts Summer Chamber Music Weekend on the second weekend of July features traditional works performed by pianist Roy Bogas and outstanding musicians from the San Francisco Symphony.
Gualala Arts Auto Show and "Summernationals" Pinewood Derby Races brings classic cars and derby racers to the center on the third Saturday of July.
Art in the Redwoods Festival in August is the largest art festival on the northern California coast, and the event that founded the Gualala Center for the Arts. It includes a Thursday night Top Hat Dinner & Wine Celebration, a Friday night Champagne Preview, and a two-day indoor fine art exhibition and outdoor festival (craft vendors, food, music, storytelling, and other activities).
Festival of Trees on the Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend each November features arts & crafts, food, and children's activities, with visits by Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and the Grinch.
And there are several ongoing performance series at the center:
The Global Harmony series shares cultures worldwide through the arts, including music, dance, art exhibits, and workshops.
The LocalEyes series presents musicians from the Sonoma-Mendocino coast.
Gualala Arts Theater produces live dramas, comedies, and musical plays, as well as theater events such as murder mystery dinner theater.
The Chamber Music Series offers at least eight concerts annually, with occasional special presentations.
Gualala Arts Center also operates the Dolphin Gallery (39225 Highway 1, behind the post office in downtown Gualala, 707-884-3896), which is staffed entirely by volunteers. The gallery features art and fine crafts by artists from along the coastline in northern Sonoma County and southern Mendocino County. Plus, the center supports the annual Studio Discovery Tour, which the North Coast Artists Guild coordinates on two weekends around Labor Day.
Nestled among redwoods on 11 acres of forested land, the center's building includes lots of natural materials and walls of windows to bring the beauty of nature inside.
When you attend any activities or events at the center itself, be sure to plan for enough time to explore its amazing grounds. Stroll through the shady picnic area, with its wood-fired pizza oven and small stage, to the easy loop trail through the Global Harmony Sculpture Garden where you'll discover art peeping through the foliage. This trail includes a hand-crafted Japanese torrii gate, traditionally placed at the entrance or inside a Shinto shrine.
There's also a forest loop trail for those who want to explore the incredible trees and foliage on the center's grounds. On one side of the center is an outdoor amphitheater, the site of many concerts and performances.
And behind the center you'll find a serene meditation grove, tucked into the remains of a 65-foot-diameter redwood tree that burned centuries ago. Over time, that first, massive tree died and decayed, but the original roots stayed alive. Other redwoods grew in the ring left behind, creating a "fairy circle." A small wooden deck in the middle of this magical space is a great spot to contemplate the beauties of nature and the longevity of redwoods, one of the oldest livings organisms on earth.
Gualala Arts Center, 46501 Gualala Road, Gualala, 707-884-1138; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. weekends.
You'll want to stay in the area for a bit, both to experience all that the Gualala Arts Center has to offer and to explore the exciting, rugged coastline. For larger groups or an extended stay, consider renting a vacation home in The Sea Ranch, the environmentally-planned community developed in the 1960s on a 10-mile stretch of coastline just south of the Gualala River.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.