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 elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.)

What they say about Steve Baxman

“I love Steve. He’s our local hero. I jokingly say he sleeps with his boots on. He’s always ready to come out and take care of people.”

Diane Barth, longtime Monte Rio resident

“He’s no stranger to controversy. I’ve defended him a number of times. (But) I tell people if you’re the one who goes over a cliff or find yourself in a perilous situation of any kind, he’s the face you want to see.”

Andy Pforsich, former Gold Ridge fire chief

“As good or bad or difficult as some of the calls might be, he finds a way to lighten the mood. He doesn’t take away from the seriousness, but he lessens the heartache of people involved, patients and responders.”

Sean Grinnell, Bodega Bay fire chief

“I think my brother has done a tremendous amount of good but he doesn’t do this alone. He has a wonderful supporting cast that never gets any credit.”

Deanna Baxman, retired Cal Fire division chief

“Sometimes you have to realize when politically you have to watch what you say. Steve doesn’t care.”

Dan George, Gold Ridge fire chief

“It’s very helpful when Steve shows up. He can keep a crazy situation calm. If we get a call at three in the morning chances are he’s there. I don’t think the guy sleeps.”

Dan Mori, Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy

“Some people love to hate him. But they call him, not 911. What does that tell you?”

Max Ming, Russian River fire chief

“He’s a true legend. I don’t know what he’s made of but he’s definitely made of something else.”

Efren Carrillo, Sonoma County supervisor

“He can never be replaced. He’s been doing it over 40 years now. No one can fill those shoes.”

Marshall Turbeville, Cal Fire battalion chief

“He’s a character. It leads people to not think he is the real deal. He is the real deal. He’s one of the legends of Sonoma County.”

Jack Piccinini, chief of Windsor and Rincon Valley fire districts

“He’s not talking out of the side of his mouth. You get what’s in front of you. I think he’s been a remarkable resource for the county.”

Ray Mulas, Schell‑Vista fire chief