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A popular nonprofit suddenly losing its home and a St. Helena tasting room going out of business don’t sound like the makings for a good news story.

But Jamie Graff and her associates at Nimbus Arts are experts at making art out of the most unexpected ingredients.

Thanks in part to a friendly landlord offering the nonprofit a temporary home and a few generous professionals who are geared up to design and build a permanent one, Nimbus is just days away from achieving its long-term goal of moving to St. Helena.

Graff, director of the youth-oriented nonprofit, said Nimbus will be moving to 649 Main St. at Rodney Friedrich’s Vineland Station property. The space was formerly occupied by Savour St. Helena, which went out of business in early July.

The move is planned for Saturday, Aug. 11, and Graff is organizing an all-day work party with festivities, food and wine. Graff calls it “a good old-fashioned barn-raising” similar in spirit to Nimbash, the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser.

Starting at 8 a.m. on Aug. 11, Graff is inviting the community to bring trucks and able bodies to Nimbus’ old home at 3111 St. Helena Highway (Highway 29) — also known as the St. Helena Marketplace or the old cement works.

In June, Nimbus learned it would have to move out of the space by Aug. 15. But the temporary space at Vineland Station and accelerated plans for developing a permanent arts center have turned a crisis into an opportunity, Graff said.

“We’re so lucky everything has worked out this way,” she said.

Concurrent with the move, Nimbus will kick off a capital campaign to raise money for an arts center on College Avenue.

Circumstances wrecked the project’s original timeline, “but the energy is right,” Graff said. “All of the community members I’ve talked to have said, ‘We’ll help you move, we’ll help you raise money.’ So we’re ready to roll.”

Nimbus has operated out of the St. Helena Marketplace, a few miles north of St. Helena, for four years.

But moving to St. Helena has always been “our dream,” Graff said Monday as kids wove baskets, used Italian pottery techniques to make rooster-shaped pitchers, and baked tomato galettes with fresh basil from the St. Helena Montessori School garden as part of Nimbus’ Farm Fresh camp.

Farm Fresh was one of 11 camps offered by Nimbus this summer, with an average enrollment in the 30s. It was held at the St. Helena Montessori School’s new barn on College Avenue.

Nimbus entered into a joint venture with the school, acquiring land in front of the Montessori School’s barn and planning to raise money for a permanent arts center on the site.

Graff had planned to stay at St. Helena Marketplace until the new building was finished, which had been slated for 2015. But following a foreclosure and a change in ownership at St. Helena Marketplace, Nimbus got some bad news in June: the new owners were planning a major remodel, and a rent increase would make it impossible for Nimbus to stay past Aug. 15.

Graff started scrambling to find a space in St. Helena. Friedrich told her he had a 2,000-square-foot tin shed available on his Vineland Station property, and when Savour St. Helena closed its doors he offered her that space as well.

Savour, which opened in June 2011, was never able to get off the ground, according to Ron Fenolio of Veedercrest Estates, one of the wineries featured at Savour.

“There was never enough traffic at that location, and the wineries that were there all pulled out,” Fenolio said. “One of the problems was that it didn’t have that typical winery look that people look for when they drive up and down the valley.”

Rent for commercial space in St. Helena is notoriously high, and by offering the old Savour space to Nimbus Arts for an affordable rate, Friedrich “was really our knight in shining armor,” said Graff, adding that the construction firm Grassi & Associates has donated materials to remodel the tin shed.

Nimbus can only use the space until next April, when Friedrich plans to tear down the building to make way for his long-awaited 60-room hotel.

By that time, Graff hopes Nimbus’ permanent arts center on College Avenue will be well under construction, two years ahead of the original schedule.

San Francisco architect Ollie Lundberg, whose projects have ranged from the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco to Hourglass Winery in Calistoga, is donating his design services to the project.

Tim McDonald of Centric Building said he and Lundberg envision a building that’s “progressive” and “fitting with what Nimbus is trying to achieve artistically.” Like Lundberg, McDonald has been donating his time to the project.

A capital campaign to fund the new facility has a tentative target of $2 million. McDonald said a conceptual design plan should be finished this week, and an aggressive timeline has construction scheduled for 2013, as soon as city permits are acquired.

McDonald and Lundberg appreciate the Napa Valley and understand Nimbus’ goals, Graff said.

“The whole thing is pinch-me perfect,” she said. “When we found out it had to go down this way, I fussed for a few minutes. But then I thought, ‘Something great is going to come out of this.’ And something did.”

Hundreds of pieces of art produced in past Nimbus programs are arrayed on tables outside Nimbus headquarters at St. Helena Marketplace, Graff added. They won’t be moved to the new space, so Graff is asking everyone who produced the art to pick it up by Aug. 8.


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