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The Imaginists near goal of buying their performance space

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THIS OLD PLAYHOUSE  This week the Imaginists open their rehearsal for ‘A Shifting Reef’ to the public.
  • THIS OLD PLAYHOUSE This week the Imaginists open their rehearsal for ‘A Shifting Reef’ to the public.

For nine years, Santa Rosa's experimental performing arts group the Imaginists have housed their original dramatic works in the storefront space of 461 Sebastopol Avenue, in the South A Arts District.

"This building is very symbolic of the neighborhood," says Imaginists executive director Brent Lindsay. "It's always been a place where you can pass by artists' studios and their doors are open, and you can inspire one another."

That's why, when the building's owners, Mario and Liz Uribe, announced last January that they were selling it, the Imaginists embarked on a mission to buy it themselves.

"It was always a conversation on our end saying, 'If you ever think about selling, please run it by us first,'" says Lindsay. With performance space a rare commodity, Lindsay knew that losing the lease would make things difficult for the group.

When the Uribes put the building up, the Imaginists started a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds to secure the building. They're almost there.

In July, they received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for $235,000. The Imaginists were also approached by the Northern California Community Loan Fund, which has focused on saving art spaces in San Francisco and Oakland. The CCLF offered a short-term bridge loan for the Imaginists to help guarantee close of escrow, which is scheduled for February.

"The ways the numbers shake down, the bridge loan is $350,000. Our responsibility was to match that, and with the Hewlett grant, we were a little over $100,000 shy," Lindsay says.

With that incentive, the Imaginists hope to raise the final funds at events like the recent Winterblast.

In the wake of the fires, the Imaginists met at their longtime home base, still filled with smoke, and committed to continuing with the plan. "We said, 'It's time to plant a tree,'" says Lindsay. "We need to plant a tree right now, so it bears fruit every year for this community that's going to be healing for a long time. That's what art does."

This week, the Imaginists invite the community to partake in A Shifting Reef, which opens Dec. 14 with formal rehearsals in a format where audiences can view it as a work-in-progress. Written by Lindsay, and based on his fascination with Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the new theatrical work tells a humorous and timely story about a rogue vessel of eco-warriors. The play touches on issues of climate change, with a focus on resilience and community strength that has new meaning in the face of the wildfires.

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