Kathy Birdsong (left), acting chair of the board of directors, and gallery artist Sue Sweet showcase local sculptor Charlene Doiron Reinhart’s ‘Puck’ at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts. (Mark Fernquest)

Healdsburg Center for the Arts is stepping boldly into the future from its new downtown location. 

Recent years have been tough. Kathy Birdsong, board president and gallery artist, says, “The Covid shutdown and the fires impacted us negatively—so many changes in when we could be open and not. Our artists’ receptions are favorite community events, and we could no longer hold them. We missed our loyal supporters and, of course, revenue. As a nonprofit, we were not eligible for Covid funding and relied on grants our education director was able to procure. We have relocated from 130 Plaza Street to 334 Center Street and are enjoying being where the foot traffic is better. We have increased our public profile and revenue.”

This all bodes well for Healdsburgians, who in past years have benefited from Art After Dark, the Art Festival and the many classes and exhibitions hosted annually by HCA. This year, the Art Festival will launch again in late August after a two-year hiatus. Specifically, “August 26–28, we return to the Plaza for our Healdsburg Art Festival, where 30-40 art vendors will showcase their work, in addition to art activities in which to participate, and a culinary pavilion on Plaza Street with food makers and providers. There will be entertainment as well,” Birdsong says. It will be the first time HCA has held a fundraiser since before Covid hit in 2019. Birdsong stresses that the City is being very generous with regards to helping with the upcoming Art Festival.

Art After Dark will return in 2023. “There’s only so much you can do when you’ve moved into a new place,” Birdsong says, “and there’s all sorts of expenses. And manpower. We couldn’t restart everything after three years of nothing.”

Covid restrictions didn’t shut the Center down completely, but they came close. Limited hours were further hampered by limited manpower. Then came the move, in August 2021, into the new building that had housed Plaza Paints for decades. The paint-layered interior required extensive renovation to be brought up to snuff—new paint, new flooring and more.

Sue Sweet worked the front desk on a recent Monday. A practicing MFT art therapist and a six-year gallery artist who specializes in painting and mixed media, she and her husband recently built a wooden storage rack in the gallery’s back room. The volunteer work is part of her duty as an HCA gallery artist. She works the desk a couple days a month and helps out with different projects as part of the cooperative effort. “People just find what they like to do and do it,” she tells me. She painted for a day during the move and will help out at the upcoming Art Festival.

The gallery’s current exhibit, running through June 19, is titled “Miniatures.” Each exhibit measures less than 12 inches in any direction. All the gallery artists participated, as well as 30 invited artists. Exhibitions draw from across the nation and beyond. One artist is even from Santiago, Chile. Birdsong shows me how the movable walls hold the “Miniatures” exhibits, while the actual walls are for gallery artists and invited artists. Exhibits run the gamut from jewelry to ceramics to mixed to glassware to wood. The display of art makes for a beautiful room.

Behind the gallery’s rear curtain lies a table-filled “flex” space, where classes and other activities such as ScriptTease script readings by the Raven Players, take place. It is a spartan room, with a paint-splattered concrete floor and shelves on all sides.

Classes include Summer Art Camp classes, which run from June 13 to July 21 and include sessions for children ages 3–5, 6–9 and 9–17, respectively. These classes are so popular that some have now been moved to the nearby community center and nursery school. Full and partial scholarships are available, thanks to the generous contributions of HCA donors. “Dress for a mess and prepare to explore the world of art!” states the brochure. Judging from the state of the flex-room floor, parents should take those words at face value.

After-school youth classes and adult workshops are also offered, currently with safety protocols in place. In an effort to make art available to all, HCA offers tuition assistance and work-study opportunities to the general public. Class listings and newsletter signup are available online.

With business returning to normal, HCA is poised to embrace the community from its new, high-traffic location.

“I want to give a shoutout to Kelly Ebeling, our education person, because not only does she organize the Summer Art Camp, but she was also our only grant writer during Covid,” Birdsong says.

Amen to that. Perhaps we will all meet in the coming weeks and months … at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts.

Healdsburg Center for the Arts, 334 Center St, Healdsburg. Open Sun, Mon, Wed and Thurs, 11am to 5pm; Fri and Sat, 11am to 6pm. Closed Tues. 707.431.1970. [email protected]

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