We just returned from the last of this season’s concert offerings by the Santa Cruz Foundation for the Performing Arts. It was a program of flamenco guitar, song and dance by a trio of true artists, the Chris Burton Jacome Ensemble. I do not exaggerate when I call this a world class act. For nearly two hours, they performed with consummate skill and massive energy. It was beautiful, graceful and emotional. Even with the jack-hammering of heels on wood, it was clear that it was more than just folk dancing. It is a language with profound historic roots – one that communicates a sensual and deeply personal passion.
With the concert season at an end, I realize that I will miss these Sunday afternoon events, held for the most part in private homes and historic venues that have graciously accommodated us though not built for the express purpose of live musical performance. But I must acknowledge that it has really been one person who has created and nurtured a dream for this small county (Santa Cruz is Arizona’s smallest) to experience the same level of artistic performance that one might find in any big city.
Christina Wilhelm has not lived here all her life. She is the talented product of fine music schools and universities in the northeast, where she would not have to look very far to find programs that nurture young artists or bring innovative performances to eager audiences in the community. But after being transplanted to southeast Arizona from Boston, New York and Maine, she looked around and saw no sign of local (meaning closer than Tucson) top-quality music venues that could attract top-quality performers. And she could not imagine surviving here without great music!
She could have wondered why, but instead she asked herself “why not?” Christina has set the stage for an explosion of cultural opportunities in and around Santa Cruz County because she and husband, Fred, are dedicated to the creation of a state-of-the-art recital hall, that will be a crown jewel in this part of the state – a destination for tourists who will discover, along with our wonderful wineries, that there is something unique and engaging in this little-known, but beautiful, piece of Arizona.
In this tough economy, some would say it is a terrible time to be launching an ambitious fund raising campaign to build a recital hall. Painful budget realities are the rule rather than the exception in both governmental and personal finance. Yet, I suggest that we have never needed the arts more than we do in this rather grim time in America. If we treat live performance of music and theatre as incidental luxuries in our society, we risk a culture for whom music is defined by rappers who rise to fame overnight and disappear just as quickly, and “live” performance means going viral on YouTube!
Christina, at a time in life when most people are content to be spectators, has taken on a huge challenge and is risking everything to build an audience for the performing arts in a small, rural community. Though it is largely “off the beaten path” (and we do like it that way!) the attendance at the Foundation’s concerts shows that there are many music patrons in the area, and it is time to step up! The architect’s drawings are complete. We have the land, graciously donated, and a generous bequest from a caring benefactor. There are so many ways to help. If you would like to leave an enduring legacy that bears your name, you can “adopt” a portion of the hall. If you have influence in corporate America, suggest that a philanthropic gift would be an outstanding act of citizenship. If you can offer even a modest financial assist, please do so. The Wilhelms can offer many more ideas on how you can help take this building from a dream to a reality, and they will go anywhere (just about!) to discuss this project.
Most of my family and friends live in or near large metropolitan areas. I rarely envy them, except when I think of the myriad of art and music venues that they have within a few minutes of home. On almost any day, if they choose, there is a marvelous concert, theatre production or dance event available. I envision a time when, in this small corner of Arizona, we can point with pride to the increased economic health of our local merchants, the broad musical education available to our young people, and the visitors who flock to this beautiful area to enjoy the same quality of entertainment that they might find in the heart of a great metropolis.