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Against a dramatic shoreline of rocky pyres and windswept cypress trees, a rich local history of art prevails in the small community of Carmel — even in times of grant cuts and slashed budgets.
Carmel was founded by artists and the community has nurtured the arts, says Douglas Ambort, marketing associate for the Pacific Repertory Theatre. The numerous artists who populated Carmel in its early days –Mary Austin, Sinclair Lewis, Xavier Martinez, David Starr Jordan, Jack London, and later Henry Miller, Robinson Jeffers, and Ansel Adams — are woven into the fabric of the community.
“The community has paid for it and protected it,” Mr. Ambort says.
One outstanding example of joint public and private sector support for the arts has been the two-year renovation of the Sunset Center, Carmel’s most established performing arts complex, which cost more than $22 million and involved the overhaul of a 97-year-old schoolhouse. It was a coup for the small town that’s only about one mile wide.
“Not everybody was that confident that that kind of money could be raised,” says Brian Donoghue, director of the city of Carmel’s Community and Cultural Department, which runs the center. “We were very successful. Everything sort of fell into place.”
The center is scheduled to reopen July 19 with the opening of the internationally acclaimed Carmel Bach Festival.
Acoustics drove the renovation more than anything else, but the design maintained the integrity of the historic building as well. Renovators peeled back the arches that ran through the building, leaving bare steel girders that are perforated to allow sound to move through the room and allow more volume. “We used cutting-edge acoustical enhancement technology,” Mr. Donoghue says.
The Sunset renovation “is very much a grass-roots Carmel thing,” says Willem Wijnbergen, managing director of the Bach Festival. “You really can consider (Carmel) to be a strong community. It doesn’t mean everyone agrees with each other, but they are proud and they guard their history and their traditions.”
The 718-seat Sunset Theater is also home to the outdoor Forest Theater Guild and the Chamber Music Monterey Bay in Carmel, as well as the Center for Photographic Art, and has been the host to a variety of performances over the years including Garrison Keillor, the Kronos Quartet, The Peking Acrobats and the Monterey Bay Symphony.
But the performing arts community in Carmel also extends to numerous smaller theaters and performance centers that have struggled with budget cuts in recent years. Arts directors say foundation funding is down and their focus is on increasing membership and creative ways to increase their markets.
“We are seeing that all of our government funding sources have decreased their giving significantly,” says Pacific Repertory’s Mr. Ambort. “There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the performing arts to place a great deal more reliance on the sale of its product — ticket sales and the support of its patrons and the fund-raising efforts by board of directors.”
Arts directors cite the precarious health of arts foundations and cutbacks in the Packard Foundation.
“We’re still getting donations, but in many cases they’re smaller than they were and attendance is down,” says Amy Anderson, program director of the Chamber Music Monterey Bay.
But while the community works to support the arts, supporting the artists themselves is even more complex. The region suffers severe cost of living issues that threaten to drive out emerging and mid-career artists.
Monterey holds a long historic place for the arts, says David Cloutier, director of the Cultural Council for Monterey County.
“From its very creation at the turn of the last century it has been a haven for creative types,” he says. “We in Monterey County are attempting to maintain that.”
JENNIFER PITTMAN is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.
This article published here.