Fontana Arts Program Invigorates Local Economy

The City of Fontana won the Award for Excellence in the Economic Development Through the Arts category of the 2014 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. To learn more about the award program, visit

The City of Fontana (pop. 205,000) has developed a dynamic arts program that enhances the community’s quality of life and the local economy. A community survey conducted in 2006 revealed that 42 percent of households have a significant interest in and passion for cultural art programs and opportunities. In response, the Fontana City Council sought to increase arts engagement and awareness through visual and performing arts programs, partnerships and education opportunities.

Expanding its commitment to the arts, in 2008 the Fontana City Council invested in new venues and programming campaigns and launched the Fontana Arts Program.

Dedicated Facilities Offer Wide Range of Arts Programming

The Fontana City Council also created a Downtown Arts District through the Fontana Arts Program by investing in five dedicated arts facilities that offer a variety of unique programming specifically tailored to fit each venue’s amenities. The Art Depot Gallery is set in a historic building originally built as a train depot in 1915 and features art showcases and exhibits, classes, activities, camps, education workshops and art receptions. The Steelworkers’ Auditorium, opened in 2008, hosts regular programming and special events showcasing theater, music, dance and educational performances. The Miller Park Amphitheater hosts an extensive variety of concerts, symphony performances, dance recitals and festivals. The refurbished 1930s Center Stage Theater offers professional performing arts including dinner theater, cabarets and murder mysteries. The Koehler Gallery was developed in partnership with the Fontana Art Association in 2009 to provide art showcases and hands-on art activities as well as a ceramics program for those with special needs.

Fontana Arts Program events were created with the goal of enhancing the quality of life in the community and fostering art education, participation and appreciation. Between 2008 and 2014 the program created 60 new events designed to expose people of all ages, interests and abilities to art experiences they might not otherwise have in their daily lives. This programming includes free fine art shows and demonstrations, special events, art and performance classes, live performances, educational outreach, music demonstrations, talent shows and workshops. “Seeing a resident’s eyes light up with excitement as they discover an arts passion is the most rewarding part of my job,” says Nathan Hunt, community services coordinator for the city, who assists in implementing performing arts program components.

Multifaceted Approach Provides Something for Everyone

The Fontana Arts Program also brings the arts to the community by supplementing city recreation-based programs with exclusive arts components. For example, the annual summer concert series features art exhibitions, theater performances and readings; the summer youth camps include visual and performing arts instruction; and after-school programs provide art enrichment and education.

In addition, the city launched the annual Fontana Arts Festival in 2009, a one-day free event held in Fontana Park. The festival presents visual and performing arts and provides residents with chances to learn about, participate in and celebrate diverse cultures and the arts.

“The Fontana Arts Program gives all community members the opportunity for art in their lives and engages them with hands-on artistic experiences,” says Laura Mier, senior community services assistant for the city, who provides assistance with day-to-day program options.

The city implements a dynamic, comprehensive marketing strategy to promote the Fontana Arts Program brand through numerous channels, including the city website, newspaper and magazine print ads, television, radio and social media. A Fontana Arts icon helps the public readily identify arts-related programs and venues.

While much of the Fontana Arts Program’s success can be attributed to innovative programming and promotional strategies, the development of arts partnerships also plays a key role. Local arts partnerships facilitate shared resources and expansion of program components and offer a broader base for outreach efforts. The city’s partners include art galleries, performing arts studios, three local nonprofits, school districts, county libraries, community clubs and local businesses. These collaborative partners provide art expertise, programming ideas and outreach — and, in some cases, funding.

The Arts Create a Notable Economic Impact

Such arts partnerships, innovative programming at five newly constructed venues and promotional campaigns increased attendance and stimulated the local economy. A total of 63,336 people attended Fontana Arts Program events in 2014, a dramatic 14 times the attendance of 4,500 in 2007. The number of programs offered in a single year totals 1,234, equating to more than three activities for every day of the year. The development of new venues and programs created income for 1,050 people in 2014 alone, including hired performers, instructors, vendors and artists. The Center Stage Theater collected more than $1 million in revenue between 2008 and 2014.

The City of Fontana is committed to continuing to build the Fontana Arts Program, which offers a model for other communities interested in enriching residents’ quality of life and enhancing the local economy.

Contact: Amy Colbrunn, assistant to the city manager; phone: (909) 350-6556; email:; or Kristy Samples, community services supervisor; phone: (909) 349-6936; email:

Photo credits: Courtesy of the League of California Cities and City of Fontana

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Western City
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