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Blue Sage 'more vital than ever' to the community

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Photo by Tamie Meck Following a re-organization, the Blue Sage Center for the Arts recently hired Matt Hirschinger as operations assistant and Katie Hadar as assistant manager. They recently attended the gallery re-opening and Final Friday celebration in

A new gallery show opened last Friday at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts. Works include abstract landscapes of salvaged metal and resin by Devon Alves, wooden puzzle boxes by Shannon Richards, jewelry by Tess Bachaus and Ilde Ingraham, felted wool pieces by Lynn Gillespie, and sculptures in wood, metal and other found objects by Nancy Whelan and inspired by sculptor Louise Nevelson.

The "Gallery Re-opening and Final Friday Show" offers an eclectic blend of works that reflect the Blue Sage's 24 years of supporting arts opportunities for adults and children throughout the North Fork Valley and beyond. It also marked the re-opening of the newly-remodeled Blue Sage Gallery.

Since it opened in downtown Paonia in 1994 as the Blue Sage Dance and Movement Center, the nonprofit membership- and volunteer-based organization has grown and reinvented itself in order keep up with changing times and to provide the North Fork community with "opportunities to create and experience art in all its forms." It's had its ups and downs, but in recent years the Blue Sage has created a world-class concert series and has offered broad range of arts, music, literary and other programs, classes and workshops for all ages.

Board president John Coombe is passionate about the Blue Sage. He and wife Susie, also a board member, moved to Paonia 12 years ago, where they opened Ollie's Ice Cream on Grand Avenue and for 10 years ran the Glennie Coombe Gallery. When they were considering their move, said Coombe, the Blue Sage "was a very strong drawing card."

Like many nonprofits, in recent years the Blue Sage experienced an economic slump. Last winter, the board came to the realization that its financial operations were in trouble, said Coombe. Board members and Blue Sage supporters began looking for ways to save the institution and its popular Concert Series and extensive programs.

Early last year the board made the difficult decision to let go of the executive director and support staff. For the next eight months the board was the staff, said Coombe, performing every duty required to keep the organization afloat. "It was an amazing effort."

Following a full evaluation, the board made several adjustments and committed to energizing and revitalizing its commercial sponsorship program. Several signature sponsors came forward, each committing to three years of support.

That support has allowed the Blue Sage to be debt-free and operate in the black, said Coombe. They recently recruited a grants consultant and hired two staff members. Katie Hadar, a graphic designer and digital filmmaker specializing in animation, is the full-time assistant manager.

Matt Hirschinger will work part-time as operations assistant. In 2016 he completed a two-year internship with the City of Delta.

"They are a wonderful fit," said Coombe.

The positions attracted dozens of applicants from within and outside of the community, many of whom were well-qualified. While it made for difficult decisions, it also demonstrated that the North Fork area is attracting skilled, creative and energetic people, said Coombe.

During reorganization the board also considered closing the gallery. They realize it fills an important need in the community, said Coombe. The galley underwent a remodel. A state-of-the-art suspension system was installed to accommodate both two-dimensional and sculpture art.

As they did with the current gallery show, which runs through Feb. 23, the organization's gallery committee, made up of local artists, "want to keep shows varied, eclectic and interesting."

Coombe gives much credit for the Blue Sage's continued success to the "very talented board... And we get along great," he said. "That's allowed us to get through these last eight months."

"Reputation-wise, we are thriving," he said. Through the work of Concert Series artistic director Susan Ellinger and World Music artistic director David Alderdice, the Blue Sage Concert Series is attracting international attention. The annual series is sold out by subscription, and the Blue Sage is creating special musical events to accommodate the community's demands for local and world-class entertainment, said Coombe.

With the hard times behind them, the board believes the Blue Sage will remain an integral part of the community for the foreseeable future. With a growing arts community and the Space to Create Initiative to create affordable housing and creative workspace, the area has become a destination for creative people. As the area grows, and with the recent arrival of high-speed internet service, more people are coming to Paonia to play, create, and conduct business. With all of this happening, said Coombe, the Blue Sage is "more vital today than it ever was."

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North Fork
Blue Sage, Paonia
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