New midtown arts center renamed ‘Clara’

Article By Ed FletcherThe Sacramento Bee

The center had been known as the E. Claire Raley Studios for Performing Arts. The new name still honors the late mother of Joyce Raley Teel, the center’s largest individual contributor. The “Claire” and “Raley” names have been combined to form “Clara.”

In a rare public appearance, Teel said she was honored to have a building that lives up to her mother’s spunk. Despite growing up poor, she said, her mother had an affinity for the arts and never stopped learning. She learned to fly at 50 and to play the piano at 60, Teel said.

“She is the one that made me love beautiful music.”

Under an agreement with the Sacramento City Unified School District, the city of Sacramento pays $1 for a 40-year lease of the former facility.

The city is subleasing the building to a new nonprofit operating company formed to run the site. Clara Midtown is home to Alliance Francaise, Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange, Capital Stage, McKeever School of Irish Dance, Sacramento Ballet and Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy.

The operating company would contribute $1.5 million of the $6.5 million renovation cost, according to the city’s authorizing agreement. The city’s $5 million contribution would come equally from a California Environmental Protection Agency fund and from the Economic Development Fund, officials said when the deal was announced.

Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen said the city’s support speaks well of Sacramento. He said the agreement, reached around the same time as the city agreed in principle to fund the new arena, shows the city can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“We care not only about sports,” he said. “We care about the arts.”

Earlier in the process, the Teel family agreed to support a center at an alternative location. That plan fell apart but they refused to give up, said Richard Rich, the developer who chaired the nonprofit board backing the project.

“Seven times it was dark and there was no way forward,” Rich said. “Each time they persevered and found a way.”

While the ballet is the headlining tenant, other new tenants are benefiting from the renovated space. After several years of teaching classes all over town, McKeever School of Irish Dance has its first permanent home. One problem with being a nomad is lack of access to a proper dance floor.

“This is our floor (where) we can train properly,” said Nicole McKeever, who danced with the Riverdance troupe before moving to Sacramento to start her school.

Ben McClara, artist director of the Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy, said the proximity to other arts groups has already paid dividends.

The academy tango group is teaming up with the Brazilian Center for Sunday night tango events.

“Here we have the support of the other nonprofits,” McClara said. “(Before) we were all alone.”