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Nimbus champions the arts in uncertain times



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While art is largely supported by locals, tourists and visitors still struggle to see the creative side of Napa Valley when they swirl at the wineries and nosh at the restaurants.

"When I first moved here, I wasn't sure we were going to see any art," says artist and graphic designer Nick Cann. "We soon found out that there were thousands of artists in the valley, but you don't hear much about it. Nobody talks about it; they just do it."

After working in Los Angeles as a freelance set and costume designer and living in Sausalito for many years, Cann and his wife moved to Napa Valley to retire. But he says he's nowhere near retirement, teaching classes at Nimbus and inspiring students to pursue their passion. Like many of the artists working for Nimbus, Cann credits the center with providing a place where artists can make a living and express themselves at the same time.

"It's a lot more than meets the eye," he says of the arts community. "The schools encourage art, but they really don't tell young people all the possibilities for careers in art, from interior design to industrial design and all the rest. I consider it my job to let the students, and their parents, know that there is a future in the arts if they want to do it."

In addition to the center's calendar of classes, Nimbus, located on St. Helena's Main Street across from the Napa Valley Wine Train's rail line, is open for visitors to schedule customizable art experiences like one-on-one classes. "We encourage them to come in with a crazy, fantastical idea," Ballere Callnan says, "and then let them see it happen."


"Art, at its core, is another form of communication," Pentland says. "In this day and age, when everyone is so connected and you have the whole world at your fingertips, literally, to have a deeper understanding or sense of your world in all of its forms and formats is important. Art is another way of processing your world, and for me, creativity is one of the most important aspects of living."

Pentland also notes that children learn in a variety of modalities. "Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners. So art and creativity is another format for children to learn," she says.

As a nonprofit, Nimbus partners with several grant-donating organizations, such as the Clif Bar Family Foundation, and private individuals in the region to fund its programs and pay its artists a fair rate for their time and talent.

In the last few months, the political climate has not been encouraging for the arts, with the president eager to cut funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and further limit the potential for public schools to teach extracurricular classes like art. Still, the staff at Nimbus see these times as an opportunity to further the conversation about the importance of art in our daily life.

HANDS ON Nimbus Arts offers classes of all kinds in St. Helena and beyond.

    Nimbus Arts offers classes of all kinds in St. Helena and beyond.

"In fact, as a result of the current national dialogue, there is a greater spotlight on arts and arts in education," Pentland says.

"I think this is when Nimbus has to work harder to keep art at the forefront of our community and keep it alive," says Ballere Callnan. "Everyone at Nimbus is passionate. We do art seven days a week. Sure, you gotta work a little bit harder these days, but that's what you do when you love what you do."


Nimbash is a unique event, says Graff. "I really want the community to understand who we are through the event, and doing an auction just didn't feel like enough."

With that inspiration, Nimbash opens the fundraising evening with an interactive art party for guests that includes various hands-on activities, demonstrations, silent-auction items and live music. "We have trouble getting everyone out of that party when it's over," Graff says.

During dinner, an art fashion show and gallery of new works displays top-notch creations from artists like St. Helena's Baker Sisters.

The annual event adopts a different theme each year, and this year's theme of "Street Art" will drive the creative output. After the fashion show, a live auction and a dance party cap off the night.

For anyone looking to become involved in Nimbus' programs, the center offers two seasons of classes open to everyone in the North Bay and beyond. Graff also says that any artists in the area who are interested in working with the center simply need to call her up.

"I'm always eager to get new people involved."

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