WATSONVILLE—In 2020, Arts Council Santa Cruz County formed the Watsonville Stewardship Committee for the Arts to bring resources, build spaces and improve access to the arts for South County residents.
That group of artists, teachers, political leaders and city of Watsonville staff spearheaded the creation of a report that laid out several recommendations of how they would accomplish those goals.
At the top of the to-do list: Establishing an art and culture center for South County residents.
Arts Council Santa Cruz County took a big step toward that goal on Tuesday.
The Watsonville Planning Commission approved a plan from the countywide nonprofit to establish a performing arts center at 375 Main St., a location in the heart of the city across from the City Plaza.
In an interview before the meeting, Arts Council Deputy Director Mireya Gomez-Contreras said the organization hopes to turn the two-story, 3,400-square-foot building that previously housed a yoga studio into a rehearsal space for local dance and music groups.
The organization’s Mariposa Arts program, which exposes local students to different art mediums through mentorships, will operate out of the upstairs office space.
Gomez-Contreras says the space is a perfect fit because of its hardwood floors, which are essential for Folklorico groups that have struggled to find local, affordable spaces to practice.
“We think this is a good project because it’s in line with the last several years of work we’ve been doing, specifically around equity and diversity,” Gomez-Contreras said.
Commissioner Daniel Dodge, Sr. said that he “felt good vibes” about the proposal and added that he thought the decline of Western civilization happened when arts education was removed from public schools.
“I think this is more than valid and needed in our community,” he said. “This is causing a beacon of light to radiate from our downtown corridor … when we talk about the arts and reaching our children and our youth, we’re talking about positive changes for generations of our residents in our community.”
The commission approved the project 5-0—one commissioner was absent and the board also has a vacancy.
Arts Council Santa Cruz County has a five-year lease in place and a three-year business plan that includes a half-dozen local dance groups that will be “activating the space.”
“Primarily, it will be a rehearsal space, but our business plan also includes the possibility of growing beyond the performing arts,” Gomez-Contreras said. “This dance hall will eventually become more dynamic. We want to partner with other artists that are not necessarily performing arts and other organizations that are not necessarily arts and culture organizations to be able to respond to the demand for space.”
They hope to rent out the space for events and board meetings when dance groups are not using it.
“The most exciting part of this from an organization perspective is we really see these organizations as partners,” Gomez-Contreras said. “We have full buy-in. We want to meet them where they are … We want to scale up over time and, eventually, these arts organizations are going to have a really strong say and leadership in managing this space including financial responsibility.”
Gomez-Contreras stressed that this project is in no way affiliated with the push from Pajaro Valley Arts to purchase and renovate the historic Porter Building just down the street.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of this ecosystem,” she said. “The work we’re all doing is similar and synergistic, but we all have our own take and style and approach.”
The building is owned by the Petroutsas family. Anna Petroutsas spoke in favor of the project during public comment, saying that the program would help with the “growth and awareness of our youth in this community.”
“I think it’s just a perfect fit,” she said.