Through cold and wintry nights and hot summer nights, the Churchill Arts Council has ensured for the past 30 years that “The show must always go on,” borrowing from an old Broadway saying.
Since its inception in 1986, the Churchill Arts Council has withered those pesky storms and recessions to provide the best little theater for the arts between Salt Lake City and Reno. With CAC celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Fallon residents Valerie Serpa and Kirk Robertson, along with a cast of hundreds, have provided Churchill County and western Nevada with some of the best entertainment one can find on a Saturday night in the Lahontan Valley.
Housed in the 1914 Oats Park School, which was designed by prominent Reno architect Frederick DeLongchamps, the Churchill Arts Council sought a venue for its shows — the old schoolhouse suited their needs. According to one story, “the arts council raised $10 million to transform the school from a crumbling relic into a state-of-the-art facility with three art galleries, a 350-seat theater and an Old-West-meets-urban-café-style bar.”
“We thought it was a bright idea but didn’t figure it would have grown to be this strong of an organization and still be here,” said the mustachioed Robertson, as he described the arts council’s initial movement to go forward with a culturally based program.
The early years became a test for the arts council in presenting various shows to audiences primarily consisting of Churchill County residents, yet through a restoration project that took years to complete, the Churchill Arts Council opened on Valentine’s Day 2003 and the galleries had their first shows three years later. Prior to that time, Robertson said the arts council presented programs in such venues as the Elks Lodge, the Churchill County High School Theater and the Fallon Convention Center.
Through the generosity of Bill and Harriet Barkley, they donated thousands of dollars to the project, and the theater was dedicated in honor of the benefactors. Robertson said Harriet Barkley continued to donate generously to the arts council until she died in July 2010.
Robertson, the arts council’s program director, said the theater put “Fallon on the map”, and one magazine described the facility as the “Finest small performing arts house in the State.”
Executive director Valerie Serpa said the years have gone by quickly, especially in the 30 years the group has expanded the number of cultural events … and as they have done every year in the late winter, the art council presents its largest and biggest fundraiser, “An Evening with the Arts.” Robertson said the 30th anniversary edition of the fundraising dinner and silent auction is Saturday at the Convention Center and features a “Surf & Turf” dinner catered by the Slanted Porch.
Serpa said she enjoys the annual dinner because fundraisers in Churchill County don’t have a history of being active for 30 years.
“I look at it to bring new life into each year,” she said. “People like the events, and they see people they haven’t seen in years.”
Like Serpa, retired elementary-school teacher Susan McCormick has been with the arts council board of directors since its inception and has served in a variety of roles during the past 30 years. From the mid-1980s to the present, McCormick said she is proud to see the entire council and facility come to fruition.
McCormick said she remembers the previous locations for musical events and the community effort to establish a center for the arts. She said the arts mean so much to many people including Barkley, who enjoyed seeing the performances, and Smiley Kent, who wrote various newspaper articles on the people who supported the organization.
“What is so exciting about it (the galleries and theater) is that people who come here for the first time can’t believe it,” she said of the entire facility.
McCormick, though, will always have a fondness for the former Oats School. Not only did she attend there but also taught there.
“It is continuing on with being a part of our community,” she said.
The future looks bright for the Churchill Arts Council. Robertson said the depression from 2008-2011 hurt donations and attendance but not now.
“It’s coming back very strong,” he said. “Attendance is up, funding is at the previous levels and grants are above the former levels.”
Serpa said she knew their fortunes were improving for the future. In 2015, the arts council received a grant of $779,587 from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation of Reno. She said plans had been put into place after CAC received a state grant more than seven years ago. Now, with the latest grant, Serpa said the funding will enable CAC to complete, equip and furnish a 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.
Ed Rybold is a newcomer compared to many on the board, having moved to Fallon in 2000 when he was still in the U.S. Navy.
“Bringing culture to the communities in Northern Nevada is a good thing, and the diversity expands everybody’s horizon,” said Rybold, who is now the new chairman of the board.
Being a retired Navy officer, Rybold said he is impressed with the arts council because for the past 30 years, the organization has remained steadfast in following its mission.
Rybold said he became involved with the arts council because he enjoys all the programs.
“I can’t sing. I can’t dance, but I watch other people do it and appreciate those who can do it well,” he said.