The Churchill Arts Council has been a labor of love for Valerie Serpa and Kirk Robertson.
From humble beginnings almost 30 years ago to the present, the Churchill Arts Council has developed into one of the most respected humanities programs in the West … if not the entire United States.
All the hard work poured into this labor of love for both Serpa, Robertson and the many people who have served on its board recently saw how dedication and hard work paid off: CAC received a grant of $779,587 from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation of Reno.
“We were surprised because we were planning other ways to put together other applications for grants,” said Serpa, CAC’s executive director.
She said plans had been put into place “for some time” after CAC received a state grant almost seven years ago, about the time the Great Recession began to burst bubbles for businesses and endeavors such as the CAC. After receiving a grant based on bond sales, Serpa said the state of Nevada could not sell any bonds.
“The economic downturn happened to everyone,” she added.
Now, with the latest grant of more than three-quarters of a million dollars, Serpa said the funding will enable CAC to complete, equip and furnish catering kitchen, dining/serving and storage support spaces on the lower level of the arts council’s building at Oats Park. Completion of these areas will enhance the facility’s use for both a wide range of CAC programs and activities as well as increasing the viability of the facility for use for a wide range of meetings, conferences and community activities.
“The Churchill Arts Council is deeply appreciative of the E.L. Wiegand Foundation’s endorsement of our ongoing efforts to complete the renovation of the facility to provide Fallon, Churchill County and Northern Nevada with a first rate facility for the presentation of the arts in all disciplines and to host a range of community activities,” Serpa said. “Their support for completion of these spaces represents a major milestone in our renovation efforts.”
Since the economic downturn, Serpa said grants from different sources are making a comeback. For example, she said the Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs is beginning to award grants again, specifically to stable, highly recognized programs such as CAC’s.
Yet, the Wiegand grant almost caught Serpa speechless.
“It’s very stringent, very difficult to get grants from them because they have high standards,” Serpa said. “But they approached us. They will go to who will produce a good product.”
After being approached by the Wiegand Foundation in December, Serpa, Robertson and others assembled their application in January to meet the deadline.
“The application is very specific, detailed orientated,” Serpa recalled. “They are concerned with fiscal responsibility and the artist product of what the arts council presents.”
Furthermore, Serpa said Wiegand also acknowledged CAC’s reputation throughout the country, Serpa added.
“Fallon, Nevada, is home to an extraordinary center for the arts but its fine reputation is known throughout the country,” said Kristen Avansino, president and executive director of the E.L. Wiegand Foundation. “In a disciplined, fiscally sound manner, every component of the (Oats Park) school has been renovated and we are proud of our enduring partnership.”
Serpa said the CAC board members work very hard to present the best for Fallon and the region.
To the outsider, the struggles endured by the arts council may not have been too apparent, but for Serpa, Robertson and the board, they saw grants dwindle and attendance to their shows and other events rapidly decline. Time — and the state’s economic recovery — is aiding in the comeback. Serpa said the audiences are returning as evidenced during the 2014-2015 season. On Saturday, CAC presented its first city-in-the-park at Oats Park’s Centennial Stage, and the second concert occurs in mid-August.
Before the Wiegand Foundation grant, the arts council received a major grant from the Nevada Arts Council in its category, Partners in Excellence.
“Out of 12 to 14 applications, we received the highest score,” Serpa pointed out. “We see it has comeback with our audience figures going up. Demographics change in and out of town for grant funding and tourism, and the visual arts programs are taking off by increased interest.”
Serpa said she anticipates this work on the facility will be completed by the end of the year. A community-wide open house to celebrate its completion will be scheduled.
In recognition of the Foundation’s outstanding and long-term commitment to and major support of the project, Serpa said the facility will be named the E.L. Wiegand Community Galleries/Oats Park Art Center.
Previous grants from the Foundation include $250,000 awarded in 2001 for theatre furnishings, and $400,000 in 2006 for Oats Park Art Center renovation.
While the arts council has received two major grants in as many years, Serpa is also gratified by the local support offered by local individuals and organizations. Earlier this year, the Fallon Rotary Club presented a $4,000 check for the center’s programs.