By Kathryn Reed • Special to the RGJ • August 2, 2009
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- What started out as a smattering of local musicians and artists showing off their talents has grown into an annual festival that brings international performers and an audience from far outside the Lake Tahoe Basin.
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the Tahoe Tallac Association, the nonprofit organization responsible for the Valhalla Arts and Music Festival.
While arts and culture are still the focal points of the Tahoe Tallac Association, the current board of directors' goal is to make the lineup more diverse. This includes targeting a younger audience and having more ethnically diverse offerings.
"It's not hard to get people to book because they all want work," said Steve Farnsley, executive director. "In general, we deliberately tried not to repeat things we had last year so we keep it fresh."
But not everything is new. Tom Delaney was one of the original jazz performers, and he was part of this year's festival in June.
Judy Tijselling and Pat Amundson started the quilt exhibition that is still a staple of the arts program. This season's exhibit is Aug. 10-14.
Before the festival got off the ground, the U.S. Forest Service was contemplating destroying all of the buildings at the Tallac Historic Site. This stretch of the South Shore just outside South Lake Tahoe was once home to sprawling estates with multiple buildings. The Forest Service bought the land in 1965 for lakeshore access.
"Initially, the Forest Service was just thinking having beach access was the priority," explained Allie Wenzl, USFS site director for the 74-acre Tallac Historic Site. "Later on there was an analysis done by the recreation side (of the Forest Service) and the local community really emphasized they wanted to keep the buildings."
Carol Spain, who is credited with forming the Tahoe Tallac Association, said she got involved when the Forest Service in the late 1970s invited the public to suggest recreation ideas for the property.
"When I saw it, I was blown away by the potential of the site. Up to that point it was gated, fenced, no admittance signs were all over the place," Spain said. "I was so excited by the potential in terms of incorporating arts at this historic site and the combination of history, recreation and arts."
A coalition of community members came together to submit a plan to the Forest Service. Once the Tahoe Tallac Association got going, about 500 people were on board.
Today the association leases from the Forest Service the Valhalla Grand Hall, Boathouse Theatre, and twin cabins that house the gift shop and artists in residence.
One aspect of the agreement with the Forest Service is 20 percent of the association's gross must go toward restoration of the site. Modifications like a new roof can be made, but modernization must comply with federal historic regulations.
Leo Buscaglia, who lived in Glenbrook until his death in 1998, was instrumental in transforming the old boathouse into a theater. He was the headliner of many fundraisers. Another $40,000 was given to the boathouse upon his death.
TTA board members like Diana Evans and Dave Hamilton also participate in some of the local productions.
"It's not a great theater for actors because there is really no backstage or dressing room," Evans said. However, she added, "It is my favorite place to be on stage. It is so intimate. You look out and really connect with everybody."
Like most endeavors, an eye always is on funding sources. The federal stimulus package will bring money to the Tahoe Tallac Association. The Leo Buscaglia Foundation has donated cash, as well as the Nevada Arts Commission, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation on the North Shore and US Bank.
Other sources include memberships, tickets sales and rental of the Grand Hall for weddings and other activities.
"What continues to be challenging is to get an audience because there are so many options for entertainment," Farnsley said.