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Sebastopol Center for the Arts: Sophisticated Rural Creativity

The laid-back western Sonoma County town of Sebastopol possesses a uniquely sophisticated rural atmosphere, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

"We're really a vortex for cultural activity here in Sonoma County," said SCA executive director Linda Galletta. "We have major events going on all the time — and we love it that way."

This vibrant regional arts organization presents exhibits, performances, classes, events, and activities in the visual, performing, literary and film arts — all in a setting that recalls the area's strong rural and community roots.

The SCA's two galleries are staffed five days a week by volunteers. Art shows are held year round, highlighting work by local, regional and nationally recognized artists through juried, invitational, and curated shows.

The SCA sponsors two studio tours — Art at the Source in the west county area each spring, and Sonoma County Art Trails countywide each fall. And the annual Sculpture Jam brings together volunteer artists to craft public works of art from recycled materials.

A wide variety of musical performances are presented at the center, including jazz, cabaret, classical, and more by renowned artists, as well as other special events. The monthly Casual Concerts showcases an equally wide variety of local musicians.

The SCA hosts the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival each March, and Outwatch, an LGBTQ film festival, each October.  The center also offers poetry readings, contests, performances, and other activities for poets and writers of all ages.

All this is housed in the Sebastopol  Veterans Memorial Auditorium, a longtime community hall and meeting place that has been renovated to create an engaging home for the arts as well as community events.

The transformation of the building began in the wake of the Great Recession, which left Sonoma County struggling with budget woes, including responsibility for seven aging and under-utilized veterans buildings countywide.

As a well-established arts organization with a history of successful programs, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts was looking around for larger quarters. After two years of negotiations, both parties signed a 30-year lease on the Sebastopol veterans building.

"It has probably been one of the best partnerships to come out of the economic downturn," Galletta said.

The arts center than turned to the community, and raised more than $500,000 for the necessary building upgrades. The center now has a paid staff of eight, and volunteers keep the galleries open five days a week.

"We're just very, very lucky as an organization to have good community support, both from the residents who live here, and from city and county government," Galletta said.

The result is an arts center with two galleries, a commercial kitchen, an auditorium with stage, ample parking, outdoor space for sculpture, and more. Veterans and other groups continue to meet and hold events in the building, and the dining and fireside room are available for rent.

"It's been a dream come true to have a space this size – almost 18,000 square feet – and to be able to showcase the arts the way that we do, as well as having rooms where we can host different community groups," Galletta says. "Sometimes it feels like we're running on a squirrel wheel, but it's a very happy squirrel wheel."

Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High St., Sebastopol, 707-829-4797.

Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.