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Art History: Sacramento’s Most Enduring Cultural Institutions

PUBLISHED FEB 25, 2024 7:23 P.M.
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  Sundry Photography

Even before all the streets were paved in Sacramento more than 170 years ago, this compact city has been encouraging arts and culture. It’s often commented that California would be the fifth biggest economy in the world if it were a nation instead of a state; the lively and fine arts are well represented in its capital city.

1. Crocker Art Museum (1885)

The oldest art museum west of the Mississippi—for that matter, only 15 years younger than NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet it’s quite spry for its age, with a collection of contemporary art as eclectic as any in Northern California, as well as a first-rate assortment of tribal art from New Guinea.

2. Kingsley Art Club (1892)

A group of 15 Sacramento women started a circle and named it in honor of artist Elbridge Kingsley; it grew from a social club to an organization aligned with the Crocker Art Museum. The KAC supports arts education in the school and gives awards to rising student artists. One honoree was a young Wayne Thiebaud. The club promotes events, retrospectives and a series of eight lectures a year. Recent speakers include collector/donor Alan Templeton and artist John Yoyogi Fortes, whose funky, exaggerated figures suggest a fusion of graffiti art and the figments from San Francisco comix.

3. Sacramento Theatre Company (1942)

The Sacramento Civic Repertory Theater was founded to entertain the troops. After the war it was incorporated as a nonprofit. The promoters opened the Eagle Theatre, named in honor of one of the earliest California theaters, the Eagle (an 1850s tent later rebuilt in its original site Old Town). Both Tom Hanks and Jessica Chastain have performed with the STC. Today the rep company has two stages: an 85-seat black box and a 292-seat auditorium.

4. Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera (1948)

The organization’s home is the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center, adjacent to the Capitol building. The SP&O produces concerts, operas, and community engagement programs to foster appreciation of classical music.

5. Broadway Sacramento (1951)

This Sacramento institution lays claim to being the large nonprofit musical theater organization in Northern California. It brings the best of Broadway to the stage at the Music Circus, continuing decades of tent show performances.

6. Sacramento Ballet (1954)

This nearly seven-decade-old organization bills itself as the only local arts organization to maintain a residency of professional artists attached to a conservatory of dance (the School of Sacramento Ballet). The organization not only survived the pandemic, it also formed the new Second Company. Under the direction of dancer and instructor Jill Krutzkamp, Second Company serves as a proving ground for young dancers.

7. Sacramento Youth Symphony (1956)

Every year, 400 aspiring musicians audition for this young-person’s orchestra, which gives regular public and private performances.

8. Celebration Arts (c. 1975)

Originally, area performer James Wheatley organized shows at the First English Lutheran Church; in 1986, he formally changed the name of his ensemble to Celebration Arts. Now Wheatley, a six-time winner of the NYC-based Elly awards, is director of a permanent theater that focuses on African-American drama and actors.

9. Sacramento Poetry Center (1979)

Publishers of the annual Tule Review, this circle of poets has returned from COVID hiatus. A small nonprofit that is independent while maintaining ties with area colleges, the Poetry Center is supported in part by grants from the Sacramento Office of Arts and Culture, and the California Arts Commission, as well as by its membership.

10. Sacramento Master Singers (1982)

Founded as the Camelia Concert Chorale by Ken Winter, this popular chorale group performs a varied selection of material from classical to spirituals—they claim that no two concerts are alike. The Christmas concert is a Sacramento tradition.

11. Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus (1984)

The 100-member chorus aims not just to please the ears, but to combat homophobia with song.

The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus (photo by Chris Allan/

12. Chamber Music Society of Sacramento (1987)

Seven performances by a group of less than a dozen stringed instrument players are scheduled this year.

13. Sacramento Jewish Film Festival (1997)

A program of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival takes place in March and highlights movies related to Jews and Judaism. Since the pandemic the festival has maintained a hybrid format, with some films live only, some streaming only, and some available both live and streaming. The festival programs a wide variety of films from all over the world, as well as live Zoom chats with filmmakers.

14. Sacramento French Film Festival (2002)

For six days in June, this popular fest presents the best work from France and is billed as the second largest French film festival on the West Coast (presumably after the COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles). The Sacramento French Film Festival also puts on a Winter Shorts Fest, which highlights short films nominated for Césars (French Academy Awards). And the Minifest is a one-day miniature festival held in the fall. 


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