Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 @ 1:32 p.m. / Arts, Community, Education

State Injects $2.5 Million in Del Norte Performing Arts Center Project

State Sen. Mike McGuire presents a $2.5 million check to the Partnership for the Performing Arts on Thursday. | Photo: Jessica C. Andrews

To Riley Hudson, music is more than a class, it’s the ultimate form of self expression and unity.

Music gives Hudson and his bandmates the chance to come together to create beautiful melodies, yet they nickname their normal venue — the Del Norte High School gym — the Toilet Bowl.

After finding out that a local effort to build a regional performing arts center will receive $2.5 million in state dollars, the band’s assistant drum major thanked the organizers for “eliminating the Toilet Bowl.”

“With the performing arts center, the entire community as a whole will have access to live music and have children commit to it,” Hudson said Thursday to supporters for the Partnership for the Performing Arts, which included State Sen. Mike McGuire. “Now with the Performing Arts Center, the Toilet Bowl will be no more.”

In addition to the $2.5 million that’s coming from the state’s general fund, $2 million in local pledges have already gone toward the Performing Arts Center, McGuire announced. This will enable the nonprofit organization spearheading the endeavor to start the design phase, including determining the project’s size and scope as well as the look and feel of its interior and exterior spaces.

McGuire was joined by local philanthropists Nick and Lisa Rail, Del Norte Unified School District officials and members of the arts community in Del Norte High School’s band room. In between McGuire’s announcement and presentation of a big check, the jazz band serenaded the crowd with Sergio Mendez’s “The Look of Love.”

Conceptual art of Performing Arts Center in Del Norte County. | Image courtesy of Nick Rail

The Rails announced plans to start a nonprofit organization with the goal of establishing a performing arts center at Del Norte High School about a year ago. The $42 million facility will seat 1,000 and not only provide students like Hudson a chance to escape the Toilet Bowl, the community will be able to showcase its talents as a whole. The Partnership for the Performing Arts Center is shooting for a January 2028 opening date.

On Thursday, DNUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris said the Performing Arts Center will allow for music, theater, dance and spoken word performances. It’ll be a venue to display photography, sculpture, computer-generated and 3D art. Students will be able to interact with artists who already visit the Del Norte County area annually, Harris said.

The Performing Arts Center will also be open to Del Norte’s tribal, Hmong and Hispanic communities to share their culture and art and “break down walls.”

“The Performing Arts Center will provide an incredible venue to break down barriers and expand our understanding of each other and the world,” Harris said. “The arts have the power to enhance, enrich and ultimately change lives.”

According to Harris, the $2.5 million from the state is the largest investment the Performing Arts Center project has received to date.

Those dollars come from California’s general fund and were secured for the current fiscal year, McGuire told the Wild Rivers Outpost. It’s part of the state’s overall budget surplus, he said. Those moneys will be allocated to DNUSD, which will manage the project costs, McGuire said. He added that there are reporting requirements tied to this funding.

As for the $2 million in local contributions, the first $1 million came from the Rails. Nick Rail grew up in Del Norte County, playing trumpet at Redwood Union Elementary School in the 1960s before going on to establish a successful chain of music stores in Southern California.

Conceptual art of Performing Arts Center in Del Norte County. | Image courtesy of Nick Rail

In 2020, the Rails returned to Del Norte County and donated hundreds of musical instruments to local students. The Rails also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the refurbishment of the Crescent Elk Auditorium.

When the 90-year-old venue reopened in November 2021 with brand new seats, new curtains, lighting and a new paint job, the Rails announced their plans for an even larger performance space.

In June, Rail told the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors that most donations for the project will be coming from outside the community. The nonprofit hired former First 5 Del Norte Executive Director Angela Glore as a grant writer to pursue state and federal grant dollars. The nonprofit will also reach out to private foundations and donors, Rail told supervisors in June.

On Thursday, Rail spoke of his experience as a student of performing in the Del Norte High School gym comparing it to holding a championship league football game in the parking lot. The reality of what he and other students lacked didn’t hit home until they performed at other schools, playing in venues “that made us sound glorious.”

“All these decades later and nothing has changed. This is not how we celebrate and empower our youth,” he said. “From Day One, it was the intent of the Partnership for the Performing Arts to show we could leverage outside funding for this project. Today’s event demonstrates the power of collaboration between the private and public sectors.”

The Partnership for the Performing Arts is still accepting donations and is looking for people to get involved. For more information, click here.


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