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2012 Best Entertainment Venue: Wells Fargo Center for the Arts

Author: Katharine Alvarez
May, 2012 Issue

Wells Fargo Center for the Arts continues its reign as Best Entertainment Venue. A perpetual winner of the award, the center is the largest fixed-seat venue in Sonoma County, with about 1,600 seats.

The unique theater features a “thrust” stage design, where the stage juts out into the audience. The design provides a more intimate experience between performer and audience in the already relatively small theater.

“We hear it all the time, from our audience members and from our artists, how special it is to perform in that room and how special it is to be in that room,” says Public Relations Manger Kristi Buffo.

The center is wrapping up its 30th anniversary season, which kicked off with a free concert from the U.S. Coast Guard Band and also included performers such as Tony Bennett, Shirley MacLaine, Peter Frampton and bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain.

Performances are already scheduled for the upcoming summer season and plans for the next season, which begins in September, are underway. The summer series includes George Lopez, Idina Menzel, Glen Campbell’s farewell tour and the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue featuring Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

Summer children’s programs include Draw It! Paint It! Sculpt It! Art Camp; Missoula Children’s Theater, which will lead local children in a production of “The Pied Piper”; and New Song Music Camp, which exposes children to the world of music.

Opened in 1981, the nonprofit center is operated by the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation and relies on member donations and corporate sponsors. Revenue from overall ticket sales only equals about 50 percent of the operating budget, says Buffo.

“It’s only because of the generosity of many people within our community that we’re able to continuing doing what we do,” she says.

The mission of the center is to bring in a variety of performing arts—and not only popular entertainment. A nationally recognized education program is at the heart of the center’s mission and serves about 30,000 children annually. The center provides performances for school groups, arts integration courses for teachers and artist-led classroom lessons, among other services.

“We try to make smart choices about the artists we book to achieve a successful balance between blockbuster entertainment and performances that, though they may not be as commercially popular to a mass audience, are still important to present. In addition to entertaining, it’s our mission to enrich and educate our community through the arts,” says Buffo.

“Even though we were operating under the cloud of recession and dealing with some pretty severe budget cuts in our schools, we feel proud that we were able to maintain—and even increase—the number of students we served this year,” says Buffo. “We feel really good, because that’s our mission and we feel like we’re able to fill a gap in our community and make sure the arts remain alive and vibrant in the lives of students.”


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