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“Wow, what a jewel” says new arts center CEO Gina Lopez

Concert Hall at California Center for the Arts, Escondido Center Theatre. Photo courtesy of CCAE.

The new CEO of the Center for the Arts, Escondido, Gina Lopez, says she thought one thing when she first saw the facility located on Valley Parkway and Escondido Boulevard. 

“Wow, what a jewel,” she exclaimed during a recent interview with The Times-Advocate.

Hailing from an extensive background in the arts, Lopez knows what it takes to run a first class facility.  And if her last job as executive director of the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, Nevada is any indication of her abilities, it’s Escondido who has scored the prize. 

“I had just joined the board and we found out it was in bankruptcy and foreclosure,” she recalled about her days at the Brewery Arts Center in Nevada.  So, she got to work. “We built it from the ground up – from less than zero because there was a lot of debt there – and turned it into the place that I always knew it could become.”  

So, when Escondido came calling, it seemed like the right time for a change.  “When this opportunity came, I felt my job was completed there,” she said. 

But now that she’s here, Lopez says she’s ready to get busy once again. Pointing out the window to a smattering of people, she wants more. “Like right now, there should be people painting in the courtyard, kids touring the museum, which happens a lot, but it doesn’t happen every day,” she said.

So, how to get there, then? “We’ve got to hear from our community,” she said enthusiastically. She’s compiling an arts center assessment survey in which she will ask the community what they want for their arts center. “This is your arts center.  We’re reaching out to the community to ask them what they’d like to see here,” she said passionately.

She does know this. She wants the arts to be representative of the community in which it resides. “What I’m really passionate about is making everything accessible. And focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for all,” she added. 

The center already has a diverse set of programs that serve several key demographics in Escondido. For starters, there are vocal workshops for seniors, educational outreach and art programs with area schools, as well as vocational opportunities for everyone in between.

“We just opened a conservatory through our theatrical program, called the Dorris Staples Theatrical Conservatory Masterclasses,” Lopez said. “Its mission is to create pathways for, and expand access to, careers in theater and art, ensuring the industry belongs to all of us.”

CEO Gina Lopez, California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Photo by Michael Howard.

Besides the programs geared toward building the arts in the city, Lopez says the performances themselves are world class here. She points to the recently announced July 22 performance of Dwight Yoakum in the center’s Concert Hall that seats only 1,500.  “It feels very intimate,” Lopez said, adding that tickets are available now from $79 to $99, (check their website at for more information.)

But it’s the center’s theatrical department that really shines. “They do four shows a year, right here in the Center Theatre, including one original,” she said that, “Last year, was their first one called ‘Witnesses’ that just won Best in Musical, Best Director and Best Small Theatre Company from the San Diego Critics Circle.”

“It’s Broadway quality theater,” Lopez said, beaming. 

But like any nonprofit organization, Lopez must keep her eye on the bottom line. Financially, the Center for the Arts is in a sound position.  “We do have a balanced budget, for the first time in a long time,” Lopez said. 

The Center for the Arts has three sources of income.  They are revenue from the programs and services they offer, philanthropic sources, and money from the City of Escondido.  The money from the city is a management fee paid for the Center to operate the facility.

Asked if receiving money from the city is normal for an arts center, she says it can happen. “It’s not all that unique,” she said, “it’s similar to what they’re doing with the library.”  

The idea is the same as an owner of a building paying a property management company to care for and operate the building. According to Lopez, the City of Escondido has a similar agreement with the library located on Kalmia.  But given the size of Center for the Arts, it’s not enough.  “It covers a very small portion of what it actually costs,” she said. 

One of Lopez’s goals for the organization is to increase philanthropic income. “It should be at least forty percent in a normal arts organization, in philanthropy, and we’re not there yet,” she said. 

But where Lopez is, is in front of the community, asking for their help. 

“Give us your input, become an audience member, come to our events,” she said, adding “or come have coffee with me, tell me what you want to see.”

Lopez thinks the arts are vital.  “It’s the most important thing we can do,” she said.  And what exactly is that?  “To create those experiences that connect us all,” she said.

Courtyard, California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

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