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[whitespace] Janet Norton and Pam Sibley
Photograph by Rory McNamara

Pride and Joy: Council president Janet Norton shows off Healdsburg's new creative home. At right: Pam Sibley.

Blooming Art

Healdsburg Arts Council sets up shop downtown

By Sara Bir

Downtown Healdsburg, on a sunny spring day, buzzes with the quaint energy of a small, tourist-driven town: Storefronts display boutique items, clothing hung on racks flutters in the breeze, straw-hatted pedestrians pass over the sidewalks.

And now the Healdsburg Arts Council joins them with a new 2,350 square foot facility just off the plaza named--fittingly enough--Plaza Arts. "We feel we are providing a home in the heart of Healdsburg for creative activity and learning," says Janet Norton, the council's president. "It's a wonderful opportunity to be in the community."

Mingling scents of paint and drywall filter through the spacious, high-ceilinged interior of Plaza Arts, a work-in-progress dotted with tarps, ladders, and other signs of industrious improvement. The council signed a three-year lease for Plaza Arts in the beginning of March and has since been busy converting the space. "Every time I go by here there are people hammering, volunteers sanding and painting," says Norton. "We spend almost seven days a week working." About 25 volunteers have been doing all the work, with the exception of electric wiring and putting up studs. Plaza Arts celebrated its grand opening on April 24 with the gallery's premier show, "Healdsburg: Our Town."

"We're for our member artists, to benefit people who want to learn more about art," says board member Donna Schaffer. "This community has amazing art potential."

Plaza Arts represents a big step ahead for the council, whose goal is to strengthen the community through art programs such as the annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival, juried art shows, literary salons, and student scholarships. Since their inception in 1993, the council has made do with a small office and no permanent gallery space. "We have been looking at something like this for a number of years," says Norton. "We did a Community Cultural Plan in 1999, and the most universal request was for an arts facility."

Previously, the council used donated spaces for art shows. "We did 'Art on the Move' for the first five to seven years. We had three or four locations around town and would literally bus people around to view art for a day," Schaffer says. "The thing about a one-day event is that it takes so much work to set it all up, and then it's all over in a day. We really needed a long-term commitment on a space. Now we can plan things into the future, and there's a chance we can raise our hands for traveling exhibitions."

In addition to gallery space for exhibits, Plaza Arts will house a cooperative gallery for artists. Hidden in the back is a workshop area where local and visiting instructors will hold classes for painting, sculpting, and drawing. Participants will have the freedom to really get into the art and not worry about mucking things up. "This is for people to come and make a mess," assures Schaffer. "We're hoping school groups can tour through that gallery and then come back here and do an art project."

Plaza Arts' workshop will also allow the council to offer more intensive classes. "Now that we have a permanent space, it is much easier to get on the calendars for well-known instructors," Norton says.

"We are an all-volunteer organization," says Schaffer. "We don't have an executive director, we're not paying anybody a big salary, and that's why I think that we can afford this facility. I only want to do one fundraiser, and that's the fundraiser that's coming up." After a benefit silent auction of the items in "Healdsburg: Our Town," the council plans to fund Plaza Arts with fees paid by artists submitting their works for display, tuition for workshops, and commissions on artworks sold.

"It is meant to be a facility that benefits everybody," says Schaffer. "We want to benefit the 3-year-old kid to the 98-year-old woman."


'Healdsburg: Our Town' is open until Saturday, April 27, when there will be a gala and a silent auction of the pieces to benefit Plaza Arts. There will be wine, light food, and a performance by the Healdsburg High School Jazz Combo from 4 to 6pm. Plaza Arts will be open daily from 10am to 8pm. 130 Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707.431.1970.

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From the April 25-May 1, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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