The Raven Performing Arts Theater, which struggled to survive for much of its first decade in Healdsburg, spread its wings south on Friday with the opening of a second venue in Windsor.

Friday marked opening night for the Raven Theater of Windsor, a 100-seat converted church building that organizers, residents and county officials said would serve as a new cultural beacon for the growing enclave.

"It's super important to our town," said Heather Cullen, founder of the Windsor Performing Arts Academy, a nonprofit that works with schoolchildren to put on plays and musicals. "People used to call Windsor the armpit of Sonoma County. This theater is part of what we've been doing to show everybody what we already know — this is a great town to live and work."

Funds to open the new space were raised in part on Kickstarter, and at Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire announced that the county would provide $27,500 in hotel bed tax revenue for a marquee and a radio campaign.

"We want to make sure the first season of the Windsor Raven is successful," he said. "The Raven has really been a tremendous success, and we want and expect this to continue with this new project."

Organizers hoped that Raven Windsor, at 195 Windsor River Road near the center of town, would serve as a gathering spot and also help augment the larger original venue.

"There's certain kinds of performances that we couldn't really put on in a 450-seat venue," said Thomas Brand, the Raven's executive director, who was surprised on Friday night when it was announced the stage at the new theater would be named for him."We've talked to comedians and singer-songwriters and even garage bands that don't really have a place to perform outside of local bars. This is going to be their place."

Brand pointed to the Raven Windsor's first production — the cabaret-style musical "Nunsense," which opened Friday after the dedication ceremonies and runs through April 19 — as an example of the kind of show that works better in an intimate setting.

"It's a different experience for both the performers and the audience in a smaller space," he said, adding the Raven's in-house performance group, the Raven Players, is hoping to put on 10 shows in the coming year — double its normal output.

In addition, Brand said, plans were in place to have performance arts classes for children and adults.

(You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or