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By Richard Nowlin

I’m standing in the parking lot of Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, watching as a school bus full of students pulls out and an even bigger bus pulls in, this one carrying band members and equipment for a major rock concert to be held tonight.

Soon, aspiring young actors will begin to arrive for rehearsals with Roustabout Theater. On the weekend the Santa Rosa Symphony performs. On a Saturday, a wedding ... Sunday, church services ... next week, a business seminar (or expo), a theatrical production, a dance performance, a college graduation, a comedy show .... and the list continues.

This is a snapshot of activity at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa’s nonprofit community arts center that is owned and operated by the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation.

With its 28-year history, the center has come to mean many different things to many different people. Nearly half a million visitors pass through the doors each year. Some are children who come to experience their first-ever live performance.

Others attend professional development seminars here, get married here, celebrate anniversaries here, select Christmas trees here and say goodbye to good friends at memorial services here.

With its rich, nearly three-decade history, this arts center has evolved into a Sonoma County focal point – a vibrant gathering place for arts, culture and community sharing. It’s often cited as a key incentive for attracting and keeping an accomplished work force. Its role has been steadfast ... and, yet, perhaps its longevity has caused us to take it for granted, assuming it will always be here.

The star power of headline entertainers such as Steely Dan and Dana Carvey is hard to miss, but how many in our community are aware of the vast array of world-class performers of all genres that come through the doors?

Or, the nationally recognized education program that provides education through the arts to 30,000 students and teachers from five counties?

Or, the six local performing arts companies that call the center home?

Or, the hundreds of local organizations (many of them nonprofits) who enjoy the center’s expansive campus and facilities?

The truth is Wells Fargo Center for the Arts needs to do a better job of educating – and reminding – our community about all that we do, because the future of this arts center depends on our community’s support.

Given that ticket sales represent only about half of the center’s operating budget, contributed revenue is essential to the center’s future. It is only with membership and sponsorship support that the arts center is able to present world-class performances and education programs, provide a home for local performing arts companies and host nearly 1,000 community events annually.

I have no doubt that this support will come, even in the midst of economic challenges. Wells Fargo Center for the Arts was founded -- and exists today – as a nonprofit organization by community members to serve community members whose support is the lifeblood of the center’s many programs.

In recent months alone, three new locally owned corporate supporters have joined the center, including Rodney Strong Vineyards, Solar Works and J Vineyards and Winery.  In addition, we’ve recently been very pleased and excited to announce a one-to-one matching challenge grant from the Valis Fund of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

People can become a new member, renew their membership or upgrade their membership until the end of December. They'll receive great benefits, and we'll receive double the value of the donation as the gift is matched100 percent.  In fact, we’re more than half way toward our $50,000 goal.

With our community’s support, we will continue for another three decades in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, creating unparalleled experiences for North Bay residents and visitors.

  While they may come from diverse backgrounds, and the reasons they gather here are vast, they all have one thing in common. They emerge enriched, educated and entertained.

                           •••

Richard Nowlin is the executive director of the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. He can be reached at 707-527-7006 or richardn@wellsfargocenterarts.com.