Arts office, gallery closing doors

May 19, 2003 11:00 pm

By GARY LINEHAN

The state budget crisis has forced a new victim into homelessness — the Central Sierra Arts Council.

Citing a lack of reliable funding for the coming fiscal year, the council's Board of Directors decided yesterday to abandon the gallery and office space it has occupied since 1995 at 208 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora.

Two staff members — program Manager Zoe Christopher and education Director Twyla Olsen — will lose their jobs, while Deanna Dechaine, executive director since Jan. 15, will remain on the payroll at a new, smaller location as yet to be determined.

The actions become effective June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The board voted May 5 to close the gallery and eliminate the two positions, but delayed taking final action until members of the public could voice their opinions.

More than 50 people turned out last night.

Many mourned the loss of the gallery, which has bolstered careers of area artists and brought shows of international caliber to Sonora. But more were concerned over Christopher and Olsen who, they said, have been instrumental in maintaining the Arts Council's high standards of presenting art in the community and schools.

John Lytle, board president, said directors had suggested reducing their hours but neither said they could afford to accept.

The council must keep Dechaine on the payroll as full-time executive director to secure any chance of future funding from the California Arts Council, he said.

"We are saddened and dismayed that we cannot afford to keep program staff, both because the individuals have so much knowledge and experience, and because the one remaining staff member will be stretched so thin," Lytle said. "However, we still recognize our need for an executive director with a long track record of fund-raising and fiscal planning."

Under the new plan, Dechaine will devote about half her time to administering the Arts Reach to Schools program, which sends artists into county classrooms and is one of the council's most popular programs. The remainder of her time will focus on raising money.

"This does not mean the closing of the Arts Council," Lytle said. "We are being forced to relocate in the face of the economic situation we find ourselves in."