By Carrie Spitler

Despite rising costs, plans are still underway to convert the old Salz Tannery buildings on River Street into a haven for local artists. The new Tannery Arts Center will maintain a bit of Santa Cruz history and provide studio space and affordable housing for artists looking to support themselves.

“We want to preserve an important part of Santa Cruz County, which is the tanning industry,” said George Newell, the executive director of the Tannery Arts Center. “If we lose these last buildings we won’t have anything to remind us of the leather industry or the economic history of Santa Cruz.”

The Salz Tannery was originally built in 1856 and closed for good in 2001.

Newell added that the Center’s $43 million estimated budget has jumped to nearly $50 million due to an increase in the cost of construction materials. Additional funds are also needed to build a learning center facility and a

ballet studio.

Ceil Cirillo, director of the Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency, presented a progress report to the City Council on Feb. 13 detailing financial issues and requesting continued support from the council. The City Council gave the project its full support, relieving project leaders and artists who hope to live at the center.

Newell said that the construction of low-cost apartments with live-in studios, individually rented studios, and a creative learning center make up the bulk of the site’s projected costs. Construction of the apartments is the first phase of the project set to begin in the

coming months.

“We feel confident with the progress we’ve made so far,” Newell said. “We hope to break ground for the apartments in summer and begin accepting applications for the studios in fall 2008.”

Newell was adamant in pointing out the success that fundraising for construction has met: organizers haven’t had a grant rejected yet.

Project leaders and local artists look forward to the completion of the center, anticipating it to be a sanctuary where artists can thrive without having to pay market price for their living and work spaces.

“There are a whole range of interested artists, from digital artists to glassblowers to writers,”

Cirillo said.

Diane Sunseri, a mixed media artist from Watsonville, is excited by the possibility of a space in Santa Cruz devoted completely to artists.

“It has always been one of my dreams to have a community like this where [many artists] can work cohesively,” Sunseri said. “I think I’ll be a much more productive artist in that type of atmosphere.”

Sunseri and a fellow artist are planning to rent a space for photography and mixed media art when the studios are finished. After attending a recent public information meeting about the Tannery Arts Center, artists were invited to take a look around the space. Sunseri took the opportunity to grab discarded remnants around the area to make a sculpture representing the building’s past and future. She says she is especially excited at the prospect of working in the buildings because of their historical significance, adding, “It’s great that they are planning on maintaining the integrity of

the space.”