Best of the East Bay 2016: Culture
Berkeley’s sizzling arts scene; a renovated Blackhawk movie theater.
Performing Arts Venue: Lesher Center for the Arts
Perennial Winner Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts was a game changer in the East Bay’s performing arts scene when it opened in 1990. Twenty-six years later, the Lesher Center continues to shine, with Smuin Ballet, California Symphony, Center Repertory Company, and others offering high-quality drama, dance, and music. It only gets better: A recent legacy gift means a range of cabaret, comedy, and music performances will play in the newly renamed George and Sonja Vukasin Theatre, the center’s intimate 133–seat playhouse. 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-7469, lesherartscenter.org.
Dance Troupe: Jumpin’ at the Sun
The New Kid This mother-daughter-owned company, the first professional dance troupe in San Ramon, made an instant impression on Diablo readers with its eclectic performances at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center. Co-artistic Director Debbie Saravia, who is the mother in the duo, also teaches ballet and contemporary-modern classes to men and women age 16 and older in the Tri-Valley. jumpinatthesun.org.
Concert Venue: Concord Pavilion
East Bay natives who wax nostalgic for the endless summers of the 1970s and ‘80s usually point to the pavilion as their first concert spot. (For me, it was Steve Miller Band, circa ’86.) Wouldn’t you know, the pavilion is still our readers’ pick for the perfect place to hear live music. And speaking of nostalgia, some of this year’s headliners (Bryan Adams on July 9, and Hall and Oates on September 18) just might have played here in the summer of ’86. 2000 Kirker Pass Rd., Concord, (925) 676-8742, livenation.com/venues/14806/concord-pavilion.
Museum: Oakland Museum of California
This Oakland museum isn’t just educational and interesting—it’s exciting. The curators don’t shy away from provocative programming: A current exhibit examines marijuana as an economic and cultural force in the Golden State, while a fall program will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. The wildly successful weekly Friday Nights @ OMCA series has made the museum an after-dark destination. 1000 Oak St., Oakland, (510) 318-8400, museumca.org.
Historical Exhibit: John Muir National Historic Site
Step back in time at John Muir’s estate in Martinez, where the famous nature lover wrote essays about the American landscape that were so eloquent, they inspired the U.S. government to create the National Park System. Upcoming reasons to visit include full moon hikes on July 19, August 18, and September 16; and campfire talks on July 30, August 27, and September 24. 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez, (925) 228-8860, nps.gov.
Adult Art Classes: Civic Arts Education
Walnut Creek’s public art classes are impressive both for their range of offerings and for their quality. Master potters will bowl you over, and plein air artists can help you paint your masterpiece. Quirkier courses abound (make your own clay totem!), as do new media offerings—such as courses on Adobe Photoshop. 111 N. Wiget Ln., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5846, arts-ed.org.
Movie Theater: Century Blackhawk Plaza
When this theater opened in the late 1980s, its seven screens and high-backed chairs exuded luxury. More than two decades later, the wear and tear were starting to show, but a recent renovation—including recliner couch chairs in every theater, a wine and beer bar, and online seat reservations—have made the Danville multiplex state of the art again. 4175 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (925) 736-0367, cinemark.com.
Place for a One-Night Stand: Bankhead Theater
Editor Pick The 507–seat Bankhead Theater in Livermore has been an acoustically perfect gem since its 2007 opening. But the past year has seen the venue going to the next level, with a series of one-nighters performed by music legends, including multi-Grammy winner Rosanne Cash and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Roger McGuinn. Coming up on the calendar are John Waite (July 29) and Juice Newton (August 5). 2400 First St., Livermore, (925) 373-6800, livermoreperformingarts.org.
Best Chorus: The Blackhawk Chorus
Editor Pick Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, The Blackhawk Chorus deserves a shout-out for its concert series every May and December. Founded by 13 women, including Danville’s Diane Gilfether, a coloratura soprano turned realtor, the chorus consists of about 120 East Bay men and women, and gives equal play to pop songs, Broadway melodies, and holiday tunes. This spring’s series featured the music of The Beatles while last spring saw a celebration of the Great American Songbook. blackhawkchorus.com.
Art Gallery: Bedford Gallery
Reader’s Quote “The Bedford Gallery is such a gem and has given us so many interesting shows. I loved the recent superhero show, which was so appealing for families,” says Patricia Goglia of Walnut Creek. “It’s also free on the first Tuesday of every month.” Walnut Creek, bedfordgallery.org.
Theater Troupe: Town Hall Theatre Company
Big Number: 7 Number of Shellie Awards received in January, including Outstanding Production of the Year for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. 3535 School St., Lafayette, (925) 283-1557, townhalltheatre.com.
Long Story Short: Sizzling Arts Scene
Renovated Arts District: Berkeley
Editor Pick Berkeley has always been a hotbed for the arts, but 2016 has seen some major additions to the city’s flourishing museums and performance venues. In keeping with the city’s green leanings, these new venues are all products of repurposing and renovation.
The new $112-million UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive caused jaws to drop at its January unveiling. The museum, built in a space at the corner of Center and Oxford Streets that once housed a printing press, is an architectural wonder. Admission to the museum is free the first Thursday of each month. bampfa.org.
The city’s drama powerhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, renovated its 400-seat venue and renamed it Peet’s Theatre, after the Berkeley coffee institution. Check out stage and screen star John Leguizamo in his one-man show, Latin History for Morons, July 1 to August 14. berkeleyrep.org.
Finally, a nearly century-old movie house on University Avenue recently reopened as a state-of-the-art live music venue. The UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall is bringing in terrific shows, such as M. Ward on July 8 and Ani DiFranco on October 7. theuctheatre.org.