Arts council director sees changes ahead

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comOctober 26, 2012 

The Arts Council has a new executive director.

Laura Phillips, 43, recently took on the job, which includes running Merced's Multicultural Arts Center on Main Street.

"Merced's always really interested me," Phillips said. "The downtown is so cool and has such potential."

Phillips has been living in Mariposa for more than a decade, where she ran a small art-house movie theater known as the 6th Street Cinema. Through writing grants, she said, she was able to significantly improve the venue.

"We started an education component for schools, and we brought kids in," she said. "We did media literacy. We'd show documentaries where we'd have local speakers come in and talk to classes and filmmakers from the Bay Area."

After Phillips graduated in 1991 from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., with a degree in English, she moved with her then-husband to Texas.

She lived in Texas for almost a decade doing promotions for a humanitarian organization and raising her children. In 2000, she and her family moved to Mariposa.

Phillips held several positions there, including working for a year as the Mariposa Arts Council as a program director, and writing arts and culture articles for the Mariposa Gazette.

From 2003 to 2007, she was the executive director for the annual Yosemite Renaissance program, a national juried arts show in the park.

As part of a traveling exhibition, Phillips said she brought the Yosemite Renaissance to Merced and was introduced to the Multicultural Arts Center.

"I've always admired the arts center," she said. "The building is amazing."

As the new head of the center, Phillips said she's hoping to bring a few changes.

"We just formed an Hispanic-Latino advisory committee. We're hoping to do that with any other culture that would like to participate."

Phillips wants to bring some stability to the center's often precarious finances.

"Merced's population has changed and the economy has changed so we need to be a little bit more responsive to the needs of the community, and change the business model and get a business plan," she said. "I don't think there's any reason why a nonprofit can't operate like a business."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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