Another View: General Gomez Center a hub for our cultural scene
By: John Bowman /Guest Columnist, courtesy of Auburn Journal
When I took my seat as the accuracy judge at Auburn’s Poetry Out Loud competition last Sunday I realized it was my third visit to the General Gomez Arts and Events Center within one week.
It started on Monday, Jan. 18, with the inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, “Let All Voices Be Heard.” I was privileged to be on the planning committee for that event, sponsored by Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists, the Auburn Hip Hop Congress, Placer People of Faith, Placer Arts and the Mother Lode and Sacramento branches of Women’s International League of Peace and Justice. That dynamic event drew nearly 170 people to the center and most of them joined a downtown march that afternoon after the speeches, poetry, drumming and singing.
Then came the unique Star Harp Concert by Deino Trotta, inventor and player of the harp, on Friday evening, Jan. 22. The concert proceeds went to the Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Gaden Sharsta Phukhong Monastery. Several of the monks were there for the concert. They will return to Gomez on Feb. 5-14 to construct a large sand mandala and participate in a variety of events that will highlight aspects of Tibetan culture. At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, the monks will dissolve the mandala – blowing away the sand design that they took several days to meticulously create – a demonstration of the concept of impermanence, an essential doctrine of Buddhism.
The Poetry Out Loud event was held to select Placer County’s winner, who will go on to state competition in Sacramento. The winner there will compete in the national finals in Washington, D.C. High school students compete annually, memorizing poetry of famous poets and reciting them in accordance with strict guidelines. Sunday’s event was enlivened by the music of singer/songwriter Jasmine Bailey.
So, in the course of one week, three disparate events were hosted at the General Gomez site. Career geologist David Burns, his wife, Coppelia, and David’s sister, Carolyn Basque, a retired school teacher, have in the course of 10 months turned the space at 808 Lincoln Way into a vibrant center for a diverse array of community activities. These types of events are what Burns and his partners envisioned when they opened the Center in March 2015 – a place where various kinds of events could be held surrounded by art. The show there now, which has been moved around to accommodate other activities, is called “Kaleidoscope” and features local artists Jay Stargaard, Joe Strickland, Keith Smith and Traci Owens. By reconfiguring the moving walls inside the Center, the art becomes an appealing backdrop for whatever else is happening.
Wedding receptions, dinners, workshops, dances, poetry readings, and several art exhibits have been held there. “We even had a wedding,” Burns said. “They created an altar over there, using the brick wall as a background.” Coming this weekend is the Auburn Winter Storytelling festival, a free event featuring the Foothill Storytelling Guild.
Several other events are on the calendar for the coming months, including Placer Community Theater’s “Godspell.” Burns is especially excited about having a play at the Center. “I’ve heard the Godspell music over the years but have never seen the play.”
Many people continue to be curious about the name of the place. Burns explained that General Gomez harkens back to the turn of the century Cuban revolutionary chosen as the namesake for his great-great-grandfather E.W. Burns’ line of cigars. At one time there were nine cigar-making “factories” in Auburn, including one where Roper Jewelers now stands. Burns said he, his wife and sister are all proud of the center. Is it meeting their expectations? “It’s meeting our first-year plan expectations,” he said, smiling. He said his next project this spring will be painting the front of the building.
There are those in the community who imagine Auburn one day becoming a premiere tourist destination with a reputation such as places like Asheville, North Carolina, and Ashland, Oregon. With the lively State Theater, the various musical venues downtown and in Old Town and the numerous unique shops, restaurants and museums, why not? The Endurance Capital of the World also is home to many popular parades and festivals and is fast-becoming known as a music and arts mecca. And as this phenomenon unfolds, you can bet that General Gomez will be an important part of the excitement.
John Bowman is a former editor of the Roseville Press-Tribune. He is a published poet and now lives in Auburn where he coaches writers and poets and sometimes plays online Scrabble. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.