The Sutter County Museum kicked off its holiday season on Saturday with its 40th annual Trees and Traditions Gala.

The event raises funds for the museum to help pay for operational costs throughout the year. Attendees dined on hors d’oeuvres, drank their choice of champagne, wine or beer – most of which was locally sourced – and participated in a silent auction and raffle with items donated by local businesses while jazz musician Jonathan Karrant provided entertainment.

“This is our biggest fundraiser every year,” said Jessica Hougen, museum director and curator. “It’s always a great way to kick off the holiday season, and some even say it’s the best Christmas party in town.”

Fresh wreaths, Christmas trees and greenery filled the space within the museum in between exhibits. The decorations will stay up for the rest of the holiday season. 

Some guests got their first look at the museum since it was renovated earlier this year. Some of the improvements included new flooring, a new interior paint job and an update to the gift shop, along with a brand-new sign in front of the building that reflects the museum’s new branding.

“I think the renovations look wonderful,” said Mary Spilman, who attends the gala every year and served as a museum volunteer for about 30 years. “I just enjoy the camaraderie of the event, seeing old friends and just getting to see how lovely the space has become.”

Lois Licari is also a regular at the annual event. The former museum volunteer said it’s a wonderful way to start the Christmas season, all while supporting a good cause.

“It’s very important to fund the museum because I think it’s a wonderful asset for our community,” Licari said. “In the past, the museum wasn’t always well known around the community, so this is a great opportunity to support it and help raise awareness about it.”

Hougen said the event wouldn’t be possible without the amount of support it receives from around the community. More than 60 business from around the region donated items for the silent auction and raffle. Nearly 20 local businesses and entities sponsor the gala. Food and beverages are provided by local and regional businesses. The tree is donated by the Linda Fire Department. Fresh greenery is put up by the Yuba County Public Works Department, and the Sutter County General Services Department assists with the decorating.

“It’s wonderful how much the community does for this event,” Hougen said. “I just love seeing people come to the museum and enjoy themselves.”

In addition to the new renovations completed earlier this year, Hougen said there are two big projects her team are working on that she’s excited about. One includes the museum revamping its membership program. They are also contracting with an exhibit design firm to create a masterplan, which, once completed, will guide a redevelopment of the museum’s exhibits. The process will likely take about 6 months, followed by fundraising.

“We want to take a step back and look at the big picture to see how we can improve things. Although we are the Sutter County Museum, we are more like a Yuba-Sutter museum, so when we redevelop, it makes sense to treat it as such,” Hougen said. “We welcome everyone to come and visit.” 

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