Located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the Sunset Cultural Center is a nonprofit cultural corporation overseeing the city’s historic Sunset Center performing arts center, which is home to a number of cultural organizations, including the Monterey Symphony, the Carmel Music Society, and the Forest Theater Guild.


The historic property now known as the Sunset Center opened in 1926 as the Sunset School, a K-8 educational facility. In 1931, a 718-seat auditorium was added to the facility and was instantly renowned as one of the area’s finest public assembly halls. The school property was purchased by the City of Carmel in 1963 and rebranded as the Sunset Community and Cultural Center, and in 1983, former Sunset School teacher Jean White established the Friends of Sunset Foundation for the purposes of securing funding for the Center. White and her husband, Ken, a noted city council member and city mayor from 1992 through 2000, embarked on efforts throughout the 1980s to raise funds for remodeling the facility, forming a public-private partnership which raised over $13 million for renovations, which was matched by an additional $9 million donation from the city. The facility was reopened in July 2003 as the Sunset Cultural Center.

Partner Organizations and Performances

Today, the Sunset Cultural Center is overseen by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of the same name, founded in October 2003 after the facility’s renovated reopening. The facility is noted for its unique Gothic architecture and world-class performing arts auditorium, which features state-of-the-art acoustics. A diverse lineup of live programming is presented at the facility throughout the year, including theatrical and dance performances, global music concerts, and stand-up comedy shows from noted international performers.

Four nonprofit musical organizations serve as the historical cornerstone of the Sunset Center’s programming, offering more than 50 classical music performances throughout the venue’s season. Held for three weeks in July, the Carmel Bach Festival is one of the most acclaimed music festival institutions in the United States, founded in 1935 to present performances of the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Throughout its history, the festival has expanded from its origins as a three-day event to encompass more than 50 performances by leading Baroque music performers throughout the world, spanning the catalogue of Bach and many of his contemporaries. Operated since 1927, the Carmel Music Society offers an eight-month season of classical music performances by renowned regional and international artists, including a biannual music competition for young area musicians. Small ensemble performances by chamber groups are presented by Chamber Music Monterey Bay, and repertoire concerts are presented six times throughout the season by the Monterey Symphony.

In addition to its historic presenting partners, a number of resident cultural organizations call the Center home, including the Arts Council for Monterey County, which strives to improve the quality of life for Monterey County residents through the facilitation of regional arts programming. The Forest Theater Guild presents annual community theater programming at Carmel’s historic outdoor theater venue of the same name, staging a variety of musicals, children’s plays, and live concert performances throughout the year. A number of educational and drop-in cultural organizations are also headquartered at the Center, including the Carmel Adult School Pottery Studio, the Center for Photographic Art, the Harrison Memorial Library Book Drop, and the Yoga Center of Carmel.

All Center performances are held at the facility’s historic 718-seat auditorium, which features orchestra level and balcony seating. The theater’s lobby opens one hour before performances, allowing patrons to relax with concessions from the Sunset Cafe, which offers beer, coffee, soft drinks, and snacks, and the Sunset Wine Bar, which is partnered with local winery Cima Collina. Merchandise is also sold at the Sunset Center Shop, including custom-made vests, hats, and fleece blankets featuring the Center’s logo.

Ongoing Programs and Education

In addition to regular season performances by partner organizations, the Sunset Cultural Center offers a variety of public educational programming throughout the year, including a nationally-renowned Arts Education Program for area elementary and secondary schools and a number of arts integration professional development opportunities for educators. Rotating exhibits of works by local artists are showcased at the Marjorie Evans Gallery, and a Healing Arts lecture and workshop series offers periodic events for incorporating wellness and healing arts practices into education and community life. Special intimate live performances are presented periodically at the facility’s Studio 105 black-box theater space, including benefits and improv and stand-up comedy performances. The Center’s auditorium and Studio 105 spaces may also be rented for private special events, including performances, weddings, and corporate functions.

San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921, Phone: 831-620-2040

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