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What Measure G means to Cuesta’s art programs

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Apparently leaky roofs and rickety building structures don’t make for a satisfying educational experience. And, if Cuesta instructors are to be believed, creating inspired and visionary works of art in a run-down former chapel is challenging, to say the least. For instructors and students at Cuesta College artistic vision may be more easily, and safely, met if voters in SLO County choose to approve Measure G on June 6.
 
If passed, Measure G would provide Cuesta College with $310

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
# million, money that would be generated by increasing annual property taxes by $25 for each $100,000 of assessed property valuation for a maximum period of 30 years. In order to pass, the bond requires the approval of 55% of the voters. Administrators and employees believe they are requesting a fair sum, given that the last year they requested a bond was 1974 and they have since repaid the $28 million they received.
 
“Last May we conducted a survey of likely voters and at that point nearly 68% of the voters said they would probably vote yes on a bond measure of $120 million,� says Cuesta College’s Executive Director of Institutional Advancement, June Stephens. “Then in November we had a similar survey and 72% of the voters said they would say yes to $300 million.� Given this positive response from the community, Cuesta administrators, instructors and students are optimistic about the bond, but also somewhat desperate. The state provides Cuesta with $100,000 per year for maintenance, a sum that limits the school’s ability to modernize older structures. Because of this, Cuesta primarily hopes to use the bond money to renovate old buildings with problems ranging from leaky roofs to bad plumbing and construct additional buildings for various programs that are currently homeless.
 
The state has already allocated Cuesta $9 million to construct a performing arts building. If the bond passes, Cuesta will provide an additional $5 million for the building. In the event that the bond fails, the school will be required to return the state’s $9 million. “If the bond fails we just won’t have a theater,� says Stephens. “We have to come up with the remaining funds by June 30 so if we don’t have another source, then the money will go back to the state.�
 
Though Cuesta’s various performing art programs could not accurately be called homeless, the majority of these programs are operating within structures that fall drastically short of fulfilling the department’s needs. “Right now drama is in the back 40 and dance is in a small little classroom in the middle of PE, and thankfully the music department has a great new facility,� says bree valle, Artistic Director of Cuesta’s drama program. “We have an incredible music department and we have a fantastic dance department and we have this great drama department but we are unable to harness all of that together because of our geographical location.�
 
Currently the drama department performs in Cuesta’s Interact Theater, a performance venue that was originally used as a chapel for Camp San Luis. “Everything in this building is slowly falling apart, so we are really crossing our fingers about this bond measure,� valle says. “I can’t imagine the roof staying on here much longer and that’s not due to anyone being neglectful. It’s just so old.� Fortunately, the drama department was not affected by the recent closure of the Blakeslee Auditorium, but only because there was so much competition for Blakeslee as a venue that the drama department never managed to obtain a reservation for the auditorium. But the sudden closure left other performing arts departments scrambling for a venue. The dance department ended up performing in the gymnasium and though the school managed to provide a portable stage and curtains, the experience was disheartening for the students who worked hard to prepare for the performance.
 
Even if the bond passes, valle estimates that the building will require at least three years to construct, a period that she believes will be challenging but ultimately worthwhile. “One of the reasons I came to Cuesta College was when I first applied there was talk of this amazing space and we were going to be able to build this theater program that would be the center point for the college,� she says. “I’ve been very involved in all the planning down to what kind of furniture will be used. It’s spectacular. It’s beautiful and will be the focal point of the campus.� Plans for the new building include a large performance space, a slightly smaller performance space, and a sizeable rehearsal hall, theoretically providing space for three simultaneous performances.
 
But even with the prospect of the perfect performance space on Cuesta’s horizon, valle contends that the performing arts still have a long way to go before they receive their fair share of funding and time. “The drama department alone draws over 1500 people onto campus from the community every semester,� she says. “In terms of the number of people that we draw and the financing we receive, they just don’t match up.� Besides drawing an estimated 1500 guests, valle estimates that the college’s drama program raises $20,000 for the school each year. “We get funded probably around $3,000 each year for everything from band-aids to photocopies to equipment,� she says. “The theater department is basically self-funded. We use money from our last show to fund our next show, because the money that we generate is not matched by how much the district gives us.� For third year drama student Sarah Higdon the limited funding has meant countless hours painstakingly creating new costumes out of the old. Once, while creating Madonna-inspired cone-shaped bras, the department ran out of rope. The department was completely out of funding and Higdon spent hours ripping up an old costume to make a few yards of rope.

Rope-making aside, valle is willing to overlook the department’s limited funding by regarding the potential performing arts building as an indication of commitment to the performing arts from both Cuesta and the community. “Once we have a complex that is located at the front of the campus, then people will begin to see the performing arts as important,� she explains. “If people can see that Cuesta believes in the performing arts then that will generate more interest.� ∆

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can be reached at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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