Salida arts benefit from former Secretary of State Rice

You never know what might happen if you're courageous enough to ask for what you want. Kim Spina did and netted at least $40,000 for the Salida Performing Arts Foundation.

The foundation raised the money from a March 27 benefit featuring former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on piano. Rice and the other entertainers at the Salida event performed for free.

How did Spina pull it off? The co-founder of the arts foundation and Modesto City Schools board member said she got the idea for the benefit in July.

She met Rice then when both attended a board meeting for the national Classics for Kids Foundation in Montana. Spina is a board member for the organization and Rice is a longtime friend of the group's artistic director, cellist Michael Reynolds.

Spina was talking with Rice over dinner and, soon afterward, asked Reynolds if he thought she might be willing to do a benefit in Salida. When he indicated it was worth a try, she decided to press forward.

Spina said she was nervous but thought it didn't hurt to ask. She was thrilled when Rice consented.

The planning began in earnest and involved the help of young people. Students from Davis High School played jazz, students from Downey High made the desserts, some from Johansen High did the flower arrangements and some from Modesto High took pictures.

Galletto Ristorante catered the dinner and appetizers. Tickets were $500 a person, and 152 people attended, though some were admitted free, Spina said.

The event grossed about $62,000. After an estimated $20,000 for expenses, including travel, food and lodging for the performers and their guests, the foundation expects to net at least $40,000.

Rob Johnson, the evening's host and a morning talk show host for 840-AM, called the event a success. He was delighted to get the chance to sit next to Rice. "She was extremely easy to talk to and very approachable," he said. "It was almost like talking with an old high school friend."

The money will be used to start an endowment to support the performing arts in Salida and to pay for violins for Sisk Elementary School fourth-graders as part of a string immersion program.

"It's fantastic," said Brad Friley, co-founder of the Salida arts foundation and an instrumental and general music teacher at Sisk and Salida elementary schools. "I think our students in Salida will benefit from those efforts for quite a long time."

The funding comes at a time of great financial hardship for the Salida Union School District. In March, district trustees voted to close Mildred Perkins Elementary School because of declining enrollment and to help balance the budget for the next school year. The district is considering eliminating all but one of the 3.6 music teacher positions, although the positions could be saved, Friley said.

The arts foundation board has not met to determine the specifics of how the money will be applied, but Friley said it's unlikely it will be used to help pay for staff.

"Salida Performing Arts Foundation is supposed to encourage the performing arts in Salida, and it's not meant to take the place of anything that exists."

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