There were approximately 50 community members at Dell’Arte’s town hall event at Mad River Brewery on Thursday evening. Photos by Isabella Vanderheiden.


PREVIOUSLY: ‘This Fundraiser is the Bridge to Our Future’: Community Members Rally to Save Dell’Arte Amid Financial Woes


Dell’Arte’s Leadership Council – Julie Douglas, Alyssa Hughlett and Tony Fuemmeler – hosted a community town hall at the Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake on Thursday evening to discuss recent layoffs within the organization and fundraising efforts to save the struggling theater company and school.

At the beginning of last month, Dell’Arte’s leadership announced that it had laid off nearly all of its staff in response to “critical cash flow issues” following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was like a perfect storm of things that happened right before and right after COVID,” Douglas, Dell’Arte’s Head of Arts Engagement, said during Thursday’s town hall. “A lot of arts funding went away and dried up for us and for many theaters in California and across the country. … We had to sunset our [Master of Fine Arts program] and fewer students coming through. We’ve had less audience attendance as well, due to people changing their habits post-COVID.”

All of these factors put the theater company and school “in a really precarious situation,” Douglas said.

Dell’Arte’s Board of Directors subsequently launched a crowdfunding campaign to save the famed theater, with hopes of raising $125,000 by the end of the year. As of this writing, Dell’Arte has raised $52,655.

Hughlett, Dell’Arte’s Board President and Producing Artistic Facilitator, said the fundraiser provides an opportunity to secure the theater company’s future on the local and international stage.

“What’s been built over the last 50 years is incredible,” she said. “It would be a shame to just turn our backs on something that took as long as it did to be built the way it was. … It’s essential for us to keep to keep Dell’Arte going.”

Staff recently received word that the theater had received $33,000 in grant funding for general operations over the next two years from the state of California. “We didn’t get the amount that we were really hoping for, but there are a lot of theatres and arts organizations in need right now,” Hughlett said. “The amount that we did get really is great. It’s not nothing.”

Dell’Arte’s leadership has a few other, smaller fundraising strategies in the works as well. They’re hosting a silent auction and performance at their main building in downtown Blue Lake on Dec. 17, and they’re planning a cabaret sometime in the near future, but haven’t landed on a date as of yet.

Next summer, assuming the fundraising efforts go according to plan, Dell’Arte is planning a big 50th-anniversary festival, Hughlett said. “We’ve got conversations already happening with alumni from near and far coming and doing productions and performances here.” 

In addition to fundraising, Dell’Arte is also looking to sell a 1.33-acre property that hosts the Mad River Brewery and Tap Room and several other small units. The property, acquired by the theater in 2018, is listed for $1.55 million.


“There were a lot of different plans for it and those [plans] very quickly changed during the pandemic,” Hughlett said. “We’ve had this property up for listing since January. We had an offer on it that ended up falling through in June. … This emergency fundraiser is meant to give us a moment to navigate through until we can get this property sold, which is going to provide a really good infusion of cash to reinvest in our growth going forward.”

Staff have also been working with the Humboldt County Office of Education to provide or enhance existing theater arts programs at local schools, said Fuemmeler, Dell’Arte’s interim Head of Training Programs and Core Mask Faculty.

“We want to be one of the arts providers that are funded by Proposition 28, which allocate[s] specific funding for teaching arts in the schools,” he said. “We want to be one of those groups that does that – not only to serve the youth but to have strategic funding coming in so we can build a stronger and stronger foundation moving forward.”

Douglas added that they’d like to bring theater arts programs to incarcerated youth as well.

Hughlett emphasized that Dell’Arte is “an evolving organization” at its core and will continue to evolve. “We’ve heard people ask, you know, ‘Are you going to reinvent Dell’Arte? What are you going to do with it?’ and it’s really important to us that we keep building off of the legacy that was built by our founders [Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill], as well as Michael [Fields],” she said. “That’s something Jane always said about Dell’Arte, that’s it’s always evolving no matter what.”

Turning to questions from the audience, one attendee asked if the Dec. 31 target date was a hard deadline imposed by an external entity or if there was a little bit of wiggle room.

“No, thankfully not,” Hughlett said. “It’s essential that we get [to our fundraising goal]. We’re working with lenders and, you know, we’re really pushing this real estate [sale] while also scaling back and restructuring. We’re managing, but we’re in a place where it really matters to raise that money by Dec. 31. It makes things a lot more difficult otherwise.”

Fuemmeler had a slightly different take, adding that Dell’Arte was “fac[ing] a cliff” and had shifted into “life support mode” with the recent layoffs and fundraising campaign to buy more time for the struggling theater. “We’re currently working on a week-by-week analysis.”

Another audience member cautioned against selling the Mad River Brewery property. “I know you’re hungry today, but if you can manage it, do keep that property.” Hughlett and Fuemmeler agreed but said the theater must strike a balance with its funding sources to maintain its non-profit status.

“There’s something called unrelated business income for nonprofits, and there is a threshold of what is allowed based on the percentage of [our] other revenue,” Hughlett explained. “We’re having a tough time because we’re sunsetting programs and we’re rebuilding, so revenue on our mission-related programs is low, but our revenue from this property – which is wonderful – is actually putting us in danger of losing our non-profit status. So, I’m not sure we could weather that for another year or so.”

Another audience member asked if Dell’Arte could partner with national and international schools for a sort of study abroad program. Fuemmeler said staff has been working on a “study away” kind of program for the past year, but said it’s become more difficult since Dell’Arte ended its one-of-a-kind Master of Fine Arts program in 2021.

“We aren’t running our program right now, so we can’t significantly partner with another university until we are able to build that accreditation back because they won’t have any interest or the capacity to partner unless that technicality is in place,” he said, adding that Dell’Arte hopes to reinstate its MFA program eventually.

Other audience members suggested marketing the Carlo Theater as a venue for musicians and other acts traveling through the area or just promoting it as a local event space. Folks also suggested Dell’Arte work with the Logger Bar to host more block party-type events in town.

As the conversation wrapped up, a few folks took the time to praise Dell’Arte’s contributions to the community. One audience member expressed his appreciation for the community classes, specifically the Alexander Technique class. “It is a wonderful course,” he said. “It can change your whole sense of being.”

“I would not be here today if it wasn’t for Dell’Arte,” another person said from the back of the audience. “I moved here in 1998 and the thing that drew me here was Dell’Arte, and it was a big part of my life for many, many, many years. I love you guys and I really, really I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you [for] staying on and making it happen.”

More information on Dell’Arte’s fundraising campaign can be found here.

Dell’Arte’s Leadership Council: Tony Fuemmeler, Alyssa Hughlett and Julie Douglas