By Kiet Do

SANTA CLARA (KPIX) — With about one month left in the fiscal year, the city of Santa Clara is proposing to close a $12- to $14-million budget deficit by dramatically cutting funding to a popular art program.

The proposed 2021-2022 city budget eliminates live theater performances but retains the rehearsals and theater classes.

“There is no such thing as a performance program without performances. This cut amounts to canceling the program,” said Annabel Gong, a former participant at the Roberta Jones Junior Theater (RJJT).

RJJT has been entertaining audiences since 1968 and the city grants help to keep the programs affordable and accessible to all families, according to show director Katie Ratermann.

“It’s devastating that 50 years of a program that has done so much good for the community can be gone overnight,” Ratermann said.

The proposed cuts could also be the final blow for Santa Clara Ballet. City funding covers the ballet’s venue costs at the Santa Clara Convention Center including the annual holiday performances of The Nutcracker. What’s more, the company lost its lease at its longtime location at 3086 El Camino Real, according to owner Josefa Reyes.

In recent years, Reyes has been observing a steady decline in funding for the arts.

“But to go all the way to zero — it’s like being stabbed in the heart, you know?” Reyes said.

In the past few weeks, former students and parents of the RJJT program started a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the impending cuts and they have been attending budget study sessions, imploring officials to preserve the theater funding.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor says she heard the their emotional comments “loud and clear.”

“I think we’re gonna save it. I hope we’re gonna save it, I want to save — I’ll fight tooth and nail to save it,” Gillmor said.

The city has rainy-day funds totaling about $75 million, according to Gillmor. The next budget study session is June 8. The seven-member council votes on the final budget June 22 and the fiscal year starts July 1.

“You can cut every arts and athletic program and every children’s program in the world, you’re going to tear apart your community, you have to make sure your community is taken care of first and you work out together details later,” Gillmor said.

The city will continue to fund classes in drawing, painting, crafts, ballet, hip-hop, general dance, jazz, lyrical, piano, youth choir, ukele, guitar, violin, parent and child singing and rhythm, according to Lon Peterson, the city’s director of communications. The city is also maintaining its own annual production of The Nutcracker.

Gong, who spent several years with the RJJT program, says it boosted her confidence.

“Being able to play a different character and play someone I wasn’t with confident with and build up confidence for that character, eventually building confidence for myself that I use now as a science communicator and grad student. A city without theater is like a city without life,” Gong said.