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The Anaheim City Council on Tuesday approved an agreement that extends Anaheim Ballet’s occupation of the Cultural Arts Center building, where the company has resided for 22 years. Though this motion does not solve the problem entirely, the vote buys Anaheim Ballet more time in the company’s current space. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Governing Board of the Anaheim Housing Authority (AHA) was asked to approve a one-year agreement (with the possibility of two three-month extensions) for the city, as the AHA, and Anaheim Ballet were to identify and evaluate potential relocation sites for the company. They were also asked to consider the feasibility of Anaheim Ballet acquiring its present home, the Cultural Arts building. 

The relocation issue is a result of a 2011 change in state law when redevelopment agencies were dissolved and responsibility for affordable-housing assets was assumed by other entities. The Cultural Arts building was identified as such an asset. Under current law, the site can either be sold for fair market value or used to develop affordable housing. The AHA is responsible for the development of the land that the Cultural Arts building presently occupies.

Anaheim Ballet was told of the new status of the property in early 2019, not long before the company’s lease was set to expire on March 20, 2019. The lease was extended for an additional one-year term, through March 2020, and the company currently leases the facility on a month-to-month basis.

“We’d like to stay in the building,” said Anaheim Ballet’s artistic director, Larry Rosenberg. 

Rosenberg believes that the rules governing the site’s use are not ironclad. He has made inquiries to state authorities regarding the possibility of an exception.

“Some are saying it’s not possible. But we called the State Assembly Office and they said that in the past, where the majority of city council members had requested (an exception), then it has (been granted). So if the city council members were to write a letter to the state requesting that we stay, it’s possible that could happen.”

‘What Will the City Do to Keep Us Here?’

In advance of Tuesday’s council meeting, Rosenberg was concerned that the city could lack the enthusiasm to keep his company in Anaheim. “Just what will the city do if we can’t stay in the building? What will the city do to keep us here?”

During Tuesday night’s meeting, seven community members, including Rosenberg, appeared in person to address the council and give their plea. This showing of support was accompanied by over 200 letters submitted as public comments to the City Council for consideration. 

Former trainee ballet company member Kaitlyn Jenkins, star of the ABC Family series “Bunheads,” shared through tears what Anaheim Ballet means to her. 

“Because of (Anaheim Ballet) I have been able to reach people across the country with my dancing and my acting and I owe that all to how I was trained,” Jenkins said. “I grew up with dancers who were probably saved by Anaheim Ballet. Please don’t take our home away. I beg of you.”

Other speakers reported the impact of the arts organization on the community, their families, and the city’s at-risk youth who are supported by the ballet school’s STEP-UP! educational outreach program.  

Anaheim as a Home Base

Anaheim Ballet changed its home base in 1997 when it moved from south Orange County at the invitation of Anaheim city officials. The company resided in the Martin Recreation Center in La Palma Park and the former George Washington Community Center until the Cultural Arts building at 280 E. Lincoln Ave. became available in 1999.

Anaheim Ballet offers a dance school, dance performances, and lecture demonstrations. It also provides youth scholarships and an after-school outreach program for underserved youth. Its activities include a “Nutcracker” performance at the annual Downtown Tree Lighting Ceremony, an appearance at the Children’s Art Festival, participation in the Volunteer Recognition Event at the Grove, and a performance at Pearson Park Amphitheater for the Summer Nights Under the Stars series.

Rosenberg isn’t optimistic about finding another home in Anaheim for his company. “There aren’t a lot of places that would work. I’m not sure what (city officials’) thoughts are. When they say, ‘We can help you,’ that might mean pointing to a realtor and saying, ‘Go rent a property.’ You know, there are one or two buildings that have some potential, but they’d have to renovate them substantially. So it’s not going to be easy to stay in Anaheim if we have to move.”

After Tuesday night’s show of support, Rosenberg is looking on the bright side.

Said Rosenberg: “Now the work begins to find a permanent solution.”

Paul Hodgins is the founding editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at phodgins@voiceofoc.org.

Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at kaitline13@gmail.com.

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