CLARA and the AIA Film Challenge

Will Smith

November 6, 2020

When we were deciding to enter the AIA Film Challenge there was no doubt the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts (a.k.a. CLARA) was the project with the biggest story to tell. The hardest part of telling such a big story was fitting it into the Film Challenge’s 90-second format. Thankfully, a local documentarian, Matt Gilliam, reached out to us looking for a worthy architectural project to direct for this competition. Matt brought our team’s film making skills to whole new level.

While it was relatively easy to create a simple, compelling story arc for our film, time constraints just wouldn’t permit telling the many interwoven stories or highlighting the countless people who made the project come to life.

The simplified story arc went like this:

The Sacramento Ballet had been looking for a permanent home for years and Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture had been instrumental in that process. At the same time the historic Fremont School had been sitting empty, becoming a blight on the surrounding neighborhood.

Richard Rich, one of the Sacramento Ballet’s board members who happens to live across the street from the Fremont School, had an epiphany that the abandoned school could become the new home for the Sacramento Ballet. If the neglected building was going to be a match for the Sacramento Ballet, there were a multitude of problems to be solved. Meanwhile the City of Sacramento stepped up to allow reuse of the building as a new center for the performing arts.

One major problem was creating a large enough space for dancers to practice and perform in a building that wasn’t designed for this purpose. With the help of Buehler Engineering the problem was solved by spectacularly removing the load bearing columns and creating a cabling system to suspend the second floor from the new load bearing beams in the roof.

The building was transformed without losing its unique charm and as a result The Sacramento Ballet and The School of the Sacramento Ballet found a permanent new home. Problem solved, but that was just the beginning. CLARA, under the direction of executive director Megan Wygant, has become an arts education powerhouse in Sacramento (even in the era of COVID-19). CLARA’s tenants provide in-school artist residencies, workshops, internships, and scholarships for SCUSD students giving back to the community and keeping the arts alive in Sacramento.

Although, we didn’t win the AIA Film Challenge, we were able to tell at least a small bit of this great story. CLARA has become a jewel of the neighborhood and has inspired so many people, young and old alike. For us, it was an opportunity to help bring about the change we’d like to see in our community. Please take 90 seconds to watch our short video.

CLARA – Making a Home for The Arts in Sacramento from Dreyfuss+Blackford Architecture on Vimeo.

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