VIDEO: North Tahoe Arts seeks support amid declining participation | SierraSun.com

VIDEO: North Tahoe Arts seeks support amid declining participation

Amanda Rhoades | arhoades@sierrasun.com | @akrhoades

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — It's a cold November morning, and local artist Lucy Isbell has just arrived for her volunteer shift at the North Tahoe Arts center in Tahoe City. Her cellphone rings as she's setting up the cash register — it's her daughter calling to say she'd just landed a part in an off-Broadway play.

Isbell, a local photographer, knows the challenges local artists face because she is one — and she also raised two of them right here in the local community.

"I'm not here to make money, but if I can't show my stuff, it kinds of loses its purpose," Isbell said.

North Tahoe Arts has been a long-time staple of Tahoe City. It began in 1985 as the Sierra Artists Network, and eventually grew into a nonprofit community arts organization under the NTA name in 1990.

The center — known as the North Tahoe Arts Gift Shop & Gallery — has been at its current location in the green, lakefront property at 380 North Lake Blvd. (Highway 28) since 2002.

But despite its deep roots in the local community, the center, like so many other art organizations, has struggled over recent years.

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"In general, keeping a nonprofit alive in a recreational community is challenging," said Executive Director Kellie Cutler during a tour of the center on Tuesday.

She said that arts organizations in the Lake Tahoe area struggle because the community puts recreation first. Even in the local schools, she said, arts have taken a backseat to sports.

"I hear the artists talking about how someone who lives in town walks in and they say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe that you guys are here, I never knew you existed," Cutler said.

These days, North Tahoe Arts consists of a handful of volunteers who operate the gift shop/gallery and a calendar full of programs for the local community, kids included — all on a shoestring budget.

The nonprofit offers courses for artists who want to learn the business of selling their art, and there's even a twice-monthly gathering of artists that's open to the public. But despite robust program offerings, Cutler said the center still struggles to get locals involved.

"We've been here since 2002 — we've been here for 14 years and we're still getting feedback from the community that they don't know that we're here," she said.

Cutler said the drop in the economy affected the center back in 2008. So has the declining visitor traffic to Tahoe City, which she said has been going on since the '90s.

"Like every other business in Tahoe City, we're rebuilding," she said.

Tahoe City used to be the place to be, said Cutler, but now that energy is all in Truckee. But more recently, Cutler said the issues faced by the organization are based on declining participation from the local community.

"In a community this size, we have a lot of nonprofits, so there are a lot of hands in the pot," she said. "The arts tend to be the last priority. There are people working hard to make this a community known for its arts.

"But, we're better known as a recreationally based community."

The art center experienced what Cutler called "a perfect storm" in 2015, when revenue declined so drastically that the organization came close to having to close its doors.

Since, Cutler said the nonprofit has been working hard to reevaluate programs it offers and develop strategies to ensure the organization remains fiscally stable.

Part of that effort, she said, includes the crowdfunding site Youcaring.com — http://www.youcaring.com/northtahoearts-697415 — where anyone can make a donation to help support North Tahoe Arts and help reach a goal of $20,000 by the end of the year.

The nonprofit sells memberships as its main support base. They cost $46 a year, and members also get 10 percent off at local participating galleries, including North Tahoe Arts.

Cutler said NTA is also seeking volunteers, and is particularly interested in getting more young artists involved. Volunteers of all ages and skill levels can get involved at a variety of different levels, from helping facilitate children's art classes to applying to serve on the organization's board of directors

To get involved, you can call the office at 530-581-2787 or email Cutler at kellie@northtahoearts.com.

Other ways to get involved

• You can support North Tahoe Arts by dropping by this Saturday, Nov. 26, for the Tahoe City Holiday Hop Small Business Saturday this weekend on Nov. 26. Learn more at http://www.visittahoecity.org/events.

• North Tahoe Arts is also hosting its annual Holiday Open House on Dec. 3 from noon to 4 p.m., which will include a free children’s art “Make an Ornament” program.

• Further, the center’s twice monthly gathering of artists is an open studio offered on the first and third Wednesday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and is open to public.