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Merced County Arts Council reflects on productive year


Members and supporters of Merced County Arts Council (MCAC) gathered at the Multicultural Arts Center (MAC) recently to review what’s been done over the past year, as well as welcome a new lineup of board leadership. The meeting also featured a few performances from shows that have been featured at the MAC.

The first item on the agenda was the financial report. The Arts Council was very pleased to learn that this last year was a major success. Program activities, fundraising and grants brought in a record year of funding for the organization. Better yet, signs point to this trend continuing as new (and revived) art programs mature in coming years.

Colton Dennis, MAC director, thanked those in attendance, saying, “It’s due in a very big part because of your support that helps keep the MAC thriving, and your contributions have helped nurture a vibrant arts scene within our community. We couldn’t do it without you, your support for the arts will continue to uplift our community for years to come.”

Colton highlighted recent grant opportunities for local artists provided by the HeARTland Creative Corps, an organization that was developed by the California Arts Council with the support of the State Legislature to “support pandemic recovery and the environmental, civic and social engagement of California’s most disproportionately impacted communities.”

So far, the HeARTland grants have led to the funding of 17 projects, and the employment of 209 artists from across the county. In total (approximately), the grant has paid these artists $882,311 in salaries; with the hourly rate averaging out to $38.25 and going as high as $65 an hour. The local projects include a wide variety of mediums, including mural art, photography, documentary films and music recording, to name just a few.

The Council’s Education Director Lisa Gilliland-Viney highlighted the ARTREE program and overall arts education. ARTEE is a traveling art workshop that works its way around Merced County schools and art centers.

“Many schools in Merced County do not have access to the arts resources that are in many richer areas,” Gilliland-Viney said. “Currently, ARTREE artists teach in the city of Merced, Winton, Plainsburg, Los Banos, Planada, Winton and El Nido.”

The ARTREE Program currently contracts 33 artists to teach their various classes. The program features a wide variety of art styles such as visual arts, Polynesian culture and dance, Mexican culture and dance, breakdancing, and more, so that as many people as possible have a chance to explore their varying interests.

As a way to continue growth and expand outreach, ARTEE offers incentivized training programs for new artists. While the program is voluntary, participants can earn certificates and stipends for their involvement.

One of ARTREE’s most notable achievements is the progress made toward the program’s sustainability goals. ARTREE was able to give its local artists a nice pay raise as well as schedule more than 2,000 sessions for the coming school year. Additionally, the program is currently working on applying for more grants that will allow the program to seek out and train more talented artists.

In turn, Lulu Gamez, the director of the MAC’s Enrichment Center, also gave an update on the popular program that provides a forum for exploration, practice, and study, in the visual and performing arts for adult artists with developmental disabilities. The Enrichment Center continues to develop new talent and new ways to engage the community, including the sale of original artwork. Gamez excitedly told everyone about the wonderful experiences of the many EC artists, and showed a fun highlight reel of the past year.

The event also served to announce and approve incoming Arts Council members, as well as show appreciation for the outgoing members.

Colin Lewis, Staci Arancibia and Alejandro Carrillo were swiftly approved and welcomed by the board.

As is customary for these meetings, the Council gave out awards to members who deserve special recognition. The Arts Advocate award was won by Nick Cuccia, and the Arts Angel award was given to past Council President, Dan Baladad.

The 2023-24 slate of officers:
  • Alissa Haynes, president
  • Rhonda Batson, vice president
  • Cliff Monte, treasurer
  • Kathy Hansen, secretary
  • Lourdes Clemmons, correspondence secretary
The 2023-24 slate of Board members:
  • Stacie Arancibia
  • Alejandro Carrillo
  • Collin Lewis
  • Sue Bangon Emanivong
  • Steve Roussos.

Toward the end of the event, the focus shifted to the MAC Theater Camp that is produced by Madison Mitchell and a team of helpers. Over the last year, the camp has completed three productions, all of which were complete successes. These performances were Moana Jr. (Summer 2022), the Descendants (Fall 2022), and James and the Giant Peach Jr. (Summer 2023). Every production boasted a full roster of students (with lengthy waitlists) and lineups of completely sold-out performances.

Mitchell then introduced a number of performers from these shows who would monetarily reprise their roles to sing for the council.

Up first was Niara Jones who performed “How Far I’ll Go” from her recent production of Moana Jr. Then Abby Samuelson and Zoe Rae performed their duet “Space Between” from Disney’s Descendants. Lastly, Addi Mayo performed “On Your Way Home” from James and The Giant Peach Jr.


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