Looking Ahead

After 18 years of leading the Marin Arts Council to new heights, Jeanne Bogardus is stepping down at the end of the year and changing her perspective.

“I’m going to be in the audience and participate that way now,” the 63-year-old says with a laugh. “Will I still be involved in the arts? Yes; it is my passion and my life’s work.”

Indeed, it is hard to image the energetic and outgoing Bogardus following any other course in life, as her enthusiasm for the arts—and maybe more important, for figuring out how to get money into the hands of those who create art—has been her mission for the last 25 years.

It started when the San Rafael resident moved to California in the early ’70s and became involved with the Bread & Roses group, bringing entertainment to residents of institutions. “My first successful grant there was just me giving it a shot,” she says.

Bogardus figured out she had a talent for landing grants and raising funds and in 1990 finally joined MAC, where she found some of the same artists and patrons who are still around today. “I was fortunate to arrive at a time when the groundwork and the essential infrastructure where in place,” she notes. “I was able to move us forward.”

Sure, she was able to increase the staff, bring the budget up to its current level of more than $700,000 and help get $1 million in the hands of about 600 artists over the years, but her coworkers credit her with something even deeper.

“She really broadened my appreciation for different types of art and taught me about the soul of an artist,” says associate director Diane Dunn. “Jeanne has an affinity and passion for being with and inspired by artists on a daily basis.”

Jim Shay, board president for the last six years, agrees. “She has been here so long that a great portion of [MAC’s] character is owed to her,” he says, adding that the executive director has been an invaluable community liaison. “Thank God she has the interest and her heart in the right place.”

One of the key early tasks, Bogardus says, was improving the visibility of the fledgling arts council and strengthening its relationship with the county, an association she feels is stronger than ever with MAC’s participation in the county fair, special coordinated exhibits and the cultural services commission. “It’s an investment and the return is art in our community and our culture,” she points out.

That investment and its payoff were obvious at a recent event at the Marin Community Foundation where some of the artists who received the 40 or more individual artists grants given by MAC each year showed off the fruits of their labor.

“To be recognized by them and helped financially helped me define myself as an artist in the community,” says Sausalito photographer Robert Bengston, who felt the recognition was as important as the financial aid. “It’s amazing to hear, ‘Yes, we think you’re an artist and we want to help.’ ”

Other artists were grateful for services that went along with the grant, including the opportunity to participate in more shows and the related business-of-art course MAC offers.

Forest Knolls artist Judith Selby Lang, who received one of the larger grants of $10,000, credits MAC with helping her dream big and create a monument to the plastic that washes up on beaches, which was displayed right in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. “The grant empowered me,” she says. “I’ve always thought big, but being able to realize it was another thing.”

As Bogardus surveyed the art on display at the foundation event and chatted with artists and donors, she took a moment to reflect on the challenges that lay ahead for MAC. “The nonprofit arts sector is changing with the Internet and new forms of media. I don’t know what it is going to look like but it isn’t going to be the same. It is going to be an exciting time and the new leaders will have to redefine it.” She adds that old sources of funding, such as foundations, will not contribute as much as they once did.

“But the staff and board that are still here are great,” Bogardus says. “I’m leaving an organization that doesn’t need me anymore and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

To learn more about the Marin Arts Council call 415.499.8350 or visit marinarts.org