Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced ‘superstars’ help provide entertainment options

Hunting for What's Happening: A column by Tom Frazier

There’s always so many things to do in Merced. Often, there are just too many choices. Do we want to go to a concert? A play? A charity fundraiser? Combine two events? Can we arrange schedules so we won’t miss one event so we can attend another?

How can that happen in such a “small” city?

That’s easy – because we have so many superstars – Merced’s movers and shakers. Consider just a few.

First, there’s Heike Hambley, the queen of Art in Merced. She’s totally immersed in all aspects of Art in Merced and has been for as long as I’ve known her. Shakespeare fest (founder and continual director), Gallo Center in Modesto (director), Playhouse Merced, the MAC, Plays in the parks, and more. When she’s not doing something in Merced, which is very seldom, you will find her in Germany, Ashland, Oregon or some other place where she’s taking in the local art and sharing her memories on Facebook. She defines the word dynamo – calling her the queen of performing arts in Merced is truly an understatement.

But she’s not the only one! Let’s also consider Colton Dennis who is the Executive Director of Merced’s Multicultural Arts Center (the MAC). Sure, promoting the arts is his job, but he does it to perfections. He supports performing arts at the black box, upstairs class rooms and dance studios. He fully supports visual arts with multiple exhibits in two different spaces and of course the Arbor Gallery now in its 30th year of operation. This co-op gallery is totally amazing with talented artists and masterful work. When it started, I thought it would last a couple years. … Maybe. Colton is also exceptionally active in the arts community with his latest project being one that gets all the other players involved in trying to unify and cooperate. Maybe one day, we will have a single consolidated art calendar so we can avoid scheduling conflicts! That would be so nice! If Heike is the queen of arts in Merced, Colton is at least a prince!

Down the road a bit you will find the Merced Courthouse Museum, home to the Merced Historical Society and managed by Sarah Lim. She’s another amazingly talented arts coordinator, but in her own way. Her main talents are two-fold, ideas and execution. She may think, “Gee, it would be good to have an exhibit that describes the water situation in our area.” That idea will probably float around in her brain for a few days and then the gears will start turning. She’ll make a few phone calls, and before you know it the exhibit will be scheduled with a great grand opening a few weeks later. If she does call you, forget about saying no. … that doesn’t work with Sarah. Not only will she find and hand pick the artwork, lay out the exhibits, plan speakers and food for the grand opening, but she will also have her dedicated staff of volunteers print, mat and frame the artwork. I guess I’d say she runs a tight ship, with each corridor having another adventure in both history and art.

OK, so that’s only three people you say? I could go on and on, but let me just pop a few groups to think about. The Phoenix Creative Collective with Rob Hypes, Andrew Burkum and Noelle DW Chandler (and others), there’s Playhouse Merced with its huge cast of talented actors, musicians, dancers, set designers, and costumers. There’s the Merced Theatre of course that has frequent great concerts and movies.

The bottom line is that there are good reasons why there are so many things to do, all of them because of so many great Mercedians at work.

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