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Santa Cruz Weekly article on the Tannery Grand opening

Catherine Willis’ eyes light up when she talks about the dance performances she has planned for the June 1 grand opening of the Tannery Arts Center’s Digital Media and Creative Arts Center on River Street.

“We’ll have Haitian dance, Mexican folkloric dance, Bollywood dance, contemporary, even tango,” says Willis, the co-founder of the nonprofit Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center and a longtime dance teacher who joined the Tannery in February.

Dancers won’t be the only artists on display at the two-day celebration, says Rachel Goodman, the Tannery’s new executive director. Twenty-six visual artists will open their studios, which are part of the new center, to the public, discussing their work, demonstrating their techniques and even helping kids complete a scavenger hunt that will end in the creation of a massive mosaic.

And, of course, there will be a giant party starting on First Friday and continuing Saturday, with live music by bands including the Juncos, Tether Horse and the Santa Cruz Youth Symphony Quartet, plus libations and a performing arts showcase.

“The feeling of excitement is palpable,” Goodman says. For good reason: The opening is a milestone for the Tannery, the realization of “Phase 2” of its vision to create a campus where artists can live and work and share their work with the public. (Phase 1, which focused on building and renting 100 on-site affordable housing units for artists and their families, was completed in 2009.)

But there’s still much to be done. The Tannery is still searching for a long-term tenant to anchor the Digital Media and Creative Arts Center. The Tannery fundraising team tasked with raising $5 million for a 200-seat theater and performance space—also known as “Phase 3”—still has multiple millions to go. And Tannery artists, board members and staff must convince the Santa Cruz arts community that they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Goodman’s not worried.

“I’m feeling pretty positive,” she says.

Arts in the Right Space

It wasn’t so long ago that the old Salz Tannery site was a blighted trouble magnet.

“People were stripping copper [off the building] and selling it to be melted down,” says Kirby Scudder, the Tannery’s first resident and a multimedia artist who moved onto the property in early 2007. “There’s a lot of copper on 8.3 acres of property.”

The transient and homeless populations that lived by the San Lorenzo River, which runs alongside the Tannery, had been stripping copper, squatting and posing what the city of Santa Cruz saw as security threats to the property since it ceased tannery operations in fall 2001.

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