It’s been quite a year for the Shasta County Arts Council (SCAC). Last June, five new board members resigned, citing major differences of opinion with longer-term members over the organization’s direction. In November, anewscafe.com’s publisher, Doni Greenberg, reported that Gini Holmes, the arts council’s Executive Director, resigned after 11 years of service to the organization.
The Board of Directors guided the council while conducting a nationwide search for a new leader. On April 13, Dena Brown hit the ground running as Executive Director with plans for the future that emphasize the organization’s roots. I talked to Dena about her plans and what you might find if you visit her office.
Dena, welcome to Redding. I know you’ve had a whirlwind few months. Have you caught your breath yet?
Almost, but I’m still going up to Oregon every few weeks, trying to get my house ready to sell, so my mind is here one minute and there the next. I’ll be glad when that’s all taken care of, so I can put those brain cells to better use here. Maybe then I’ll stop losing my keys.
How has the transition been?
There has definitely been a learning curve and a lot of late evenings going through filing cabinets, but it’s not as bad as it could be. The previous director was very organized and left me notes, lists, schedules, and the names and numbers of people I’ll need to contact – even a flash drive with important documents and records. The board of directors has been supportive. Whatever I need to do to get things done is OK with them. The staff makes themselves available whenever I need help. They’ve gone above and beyond. Everyone’s committed to making it a smooth transition, and it seems to be working.
Tell us a bit about you.
I come from a very creative family. Though none of us are trained artists, each lives what I call a “creative life,” and working with our hands – making stuff – is an important part of that. But because I couldn’t draw or paint (I can’t make a stick figure look like a stick figure!) it never crossed my mind I could have a career in the arts. So I was surprised when my major in political science morphed into a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Arts and eventually a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture. I began exhibiting my work in galleries and touring exhibits and curated my first exhibit before I was out of school (with a nice half-page review in Art Week. Not too bad!)
So that part of my career was well underway. Working for large photographic companies in New York and San Francisco brought experience in administration and finance management. I ended that career as an accounts receivable, credit, collections, and invoicing specialist. (I could never decide if I was impressed or frightened by that title.) A move to Eugene, Oregon gave me the chance to merge the creative and administrative as director of a nonprofit touring exhibit organization. Later as a private art consultant, I did everything from writing business plans and grants to mounting hundreds of artifacts in a National Park Service historic ranch house. I even went to Siberia to curate an exhibit. I’ve worked with some incredible artists like Brian Lanker and Rick Bartow and with amazing pieces like a Rembrandt etching and Rauschenberg “Combine.”
What did you tackle first at the Arts Council?
Paper, paper, paper! Phone messages, sticky notes, files, and the piles of paperwork sitting on my desk. People heard I was coming and the floodgates of paper opened! Our office manager and board president helped me sort through it, deciding which required action, which could be filed, and which I could ignore. It was a crash course in SCAC business.
What are some of your longer-term goals?
The list is long, but here are a few: The board and I are working to create a strong financial base for SCAC. I’ve written a grant to fund a consultant who can help us with that, and we’re going to celebrate the cultural and ethnic diversity of our community with exhibits and special events. We also want to collaborate with other organizations and offer more classes in professional development for artists in all disciplines.
What do you say to critics who think the organization has lost its relevance and is out of touch with the regional arts scene and the artists it represents?
I’m sorry to hear people think that. It seems we haven’t done a good job promoting ourselves and our programs. Your question tells me we also need to clarify SCAC objectives, which emphasize the relationship of the arts to the community rather than focusing on the artist alone, so the word “supports” is more accurate than “represents.” But our focus is broad, and every SCAC presentation, event, class, and performance is an opportunity to learn, whether as participant or observer (or even as critic!) And I can’t imagine we’re “out of touch with the regional art scene.” Check out the list of projects we’re working on for this summer. They’re good examples of the way SCAC brings together artists and the community to celebrate the best of regional arts:
- Once again, SCAC is sponsoring ArtSmart (Oct. 16 in Mt. Shasta Mall,) which celebrates National Arts Awareness Month and with over 100 visual, performing, and literary artists was the best attended one-day art event in the region last year with over 12,000 attendees;
- Award winning, legendary film archivist and restorer David Shepard shares selections from his personal collection during our Annual Silent Film Festival. (Oct. 22 to 23 in the Old City Hall Art Center) Buster Keaton’s granddaughter will introduce one of the best films of his career.
- MarketFest (every Thursday beginning June 17 in Library Park) is everyone’s favorite community event with free concerts supported in part by SCAC;
- Three SCAC projects who have busy summers planned: Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, Redding Improv Players, and Westside Performing Arts Company.
It’s tough fiscal times for the City of Redding. Pretend we’re City Council Members and it’s fiscal year 2010/2011 budget time. How will you justify funding support of $16,000 plus the city’s costs for facilities and utilities to maintain the Arts Council’s presence at Old City Hall?
Oh, no! It traumatizes me when I have to do it for real, and it will traumatize me to even pretend, so I’ll make a quick outline, then gracefully bow out. Besides, it’s pretty standard:
I would have prepared a handsome Power Point presentation that runs throughout, beginning with photos of Old City Hall Art Center, going through all types of performances, classes, presentations, lectures, art exhibits . . . you get the idea. I would remind the Council that in 1987, SCAC was designated by the City of Redding the official stewards of Old City Hall Art Center. I’d give a brief history of SCAC: Established in 1981 to promote artistic awareness and participation in Shasta County under resolution by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.
Next, a description of the events and programs the Arts Council developed, supported, or sponsored in 2009/2010, with the number of people who benefitted. I would give 2009/2010 year-end financial reports, showing the prudent use of the funds that fiscal year and detail local organizations and individuals who, because of low operation costs, (no-fee lease granted SCAC) are able to offer our community low-cost classes, performances, workshops, lectures, etc. I would give Council members a list of programs and projects planned for 2010-2011 and the many ways they will benefit the community and use statistics to calculate the dollar amount from which the community will benefit if SCAC receives this support.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Time . . . I can’t seem to find any. I have dozens of phone calls and even more emails to respond to. A grant report is due this week. I need to edit website text, check in with staff for project updates, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately, this leaves little time to meet local artists and attend cultural events as often as I like – two benefits of the job I enjoy very much.
What has been your biggest surprise so far?
How much I like the job! Even with the stressful workload, I’m really happy here.
OK, now a little humor: Is there something on your desk that has traveled with you to all of your jobs?
Diet Pepsi — usually in a container large enough that people comment on it. It’s become a joke in my family, and every year my nephew buys me the biggest “tub” he can find. The last one had a strap, so I can carry it across my shoulder, but I don’t actually do that, because the other joke in my family is that I always spill it.
Good luck, Dena. We’re looking forward to what you have in store.
Above, “Dena as Knight-Errant, Wandering the Land in Service to Lady Art” – Illustration by James Young – jamesyoungart.com.
For regularly updated information about Shasta County Arts Council events and classes, visit the newly designed website shastaartscouncil.org. Also find SCAC on Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter.
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to email@example.com.