Through the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), Dell’Arte is expanding the arts engagement efforts at the center of its mission by more deeply engaging diverse and low-income communities in rural northwest California.
International in scope, grounded in the natural living world, and inspired by their rural surrounding, Dell’Arte is a community of artists who have shared in a sustained ensemble practice for more than 40 years. There’s already a sense of community there in a visceral way–in an isolated setting, with families often going back generations, and not much in the way of competition other than Mother Nature. But for Dell’Arte to thrive for another 40 years and beyond, they need the resources and headspace to invest in their own organizational capacity as much as they’re investing in the community.
Arts engagement with its rural, geographically diverse communities is at the core of Dell’Arte’s mission and has been embedded in all that they do since their inception. NCAF enables Dell’Arte to work more deeply with local communities, helping to share their story and preserve their culture through art.
Dell’Arte serves the three Northern California counties of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity, bordered by the majestic Redwood Forests and a rocky coastline. While their home of Blue Lake, CA has a population of only 1300, their reach extends around the globe via the physical theatre MFA program drawing international students from Iran to Israel, South Korea to South Africa. This intersection of rural meets international provides exciting opportunities for the company to meet their audience where they are, physically and mentally, bringing diverse perspectives to an already diverse community.
They are currently at work on The River, Our Home, a year-long exploration of issues arising from living along a river, in collaboration with the local Wiyot Tribe and advocacy organization Mad River Alliance. Working out of Dell’Arte’s tradition of “theatre of place,” and given the Wiyot Tribe’s prevalence and historical land rights in the area, Dell’Arte is also translating all of their campus signage into the Wiyot language, hosting conversations about Wiyot stewardship of local lands and waterways, and coordinating intergenerational workshops within the Tribe in efforts to support native language preservation.
Dell’Arte is also partnering with the Raven Project and disenfranchised youth to create performance art representing queer culture, as well as sending artists into local Pelican Bay State Prison for mask and commedia dell’arte performance workshops.
Projects are in the works to explore local issues unique to their rural community like the “extraction economy” that’s been practiced on northwest California from gold to timber to marijuana, and the historical “State of Jefferson” movement to establish a new state in the rural Pacific Northwest. The newly created Community Engagement Team will be working to develop more and deeper partnerships throughout the North Coast.
While everything Dell’Arte is working on with the community is intentional, it’s not all planned. They’re purposely leaving open in their schedule opportunities for small projects to grow deeper depending on community interest. Meanwhile, the small staff is focused on sustainability–for their organization and for their own health and wellness. Learning opportunities top of mind are how to:
Document the impact of their work and make the case to funders for more support.
Enable their staff of managers and artists to practice both disciplines without burning out.
Collect and measure data in non-traditional, non-intrusive ways.