“I have to say it is amazing how much people have wanted to meet and talk with me, and greet me, and the enthusiasm of me coming on board,” she said.
“Everyone has been so incredibly gracious and welcoming. I’m really humbled by it.”
Smeland was born in San Mateo, but said her most formative years were in San Francisco, where she lived for 35 years. She has lived in Vallejo for the last 15 years.
She has a bachelor’s degree in fine art and in women’s studies from San Francisco State University, as well as a master’s in museum studies from John F. Kennedy University.
It was the art community in Benicia that helped Smeland get to know about this city.
“When I became aware of Benicia as an arts center, it was because of the different artists who were there,” she said. “I’ve had friends move to Benicia for that very reason.”
Before applying to lead Arts Benicia, Smeland was a long-time admirer and fan of the local art nonprofit, having taken monotype classes with Bill Harsh when she first moved to Vallejo.
So when Larnie Fox announced his departure and Arts Benicia began its search for a new director, Smeland applied.
“Because I admire the work they have done, and the reputation they have as a regional arts organization in the community,” she said of Arts Benicia, “and because I have worked as a director for the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation for a number of years, I had the opportunity and pleasure to meet many of the artists.
“It is in the regional area of where I work, live and know of. It’s a community-based organization, and I’m very much a community-based person.”
Besides working as executive director for Vallejo Community Arts Foundation, where she participated in coordinated programs in visual and performing arts, youth art camps, and in a public/private collaboration to restore the Empress Theatre, Smeland has served as deputy director of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, development director at the Kala Institute in Berkeley, executive director of the Tamalpa Institute of San Rafael, director of community programs for the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, director of programs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito and art director for the San Francisco Women’s Building.
She said an early focus in Benicia will be fundraising. “It’s been my area of focus for the last 10 years. I’m looking forward to exploring new opportunities to bolster the financial sustainability of Arts Benicia, work with the board, community and the staff — everybody.”
“It’s an over quoted statement, but, ‘It takes a village,’” she said.
And as Smeland gets familiar with her new job, she said she will keep a focus on maintaining the reputation Arts Benicia has in the art community as a regional art center “with really great programs, exhibitions and helping to bolster and ensure some financial sustainability,” she said.
There will be lots of “nitty gritty,” meeting with the board, staff and artists — and she is looking forward to it all. “Vision comes out of collective thinking,” she said.
“I’m very excited about it.”