By Maja Wood
Kristen Madsen, director of the newly-formed Creative Sonoma program, said creativity is a fundamental—yet often overlooked—component of Sonoma County’s identity.
“We want to shine a spotlight so that both resident and tourists can see that, yes, Sonoma County is great food and wine and natural beauty, but we are also creativity,” Madsen said. “If we can make it visible that creativity is one of our four defining characteristics, then we have done our job.”
The Creative Sonoma program, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors last June to boost the county’s arts sector, is one of the first such projects in the country to bring together the non-profit arts community and the creative for-profit businesses. “The very name ‘Creative Sonoma’ says a lot,” Madsen said, noting that the program encompasses all forms of creative endeavor and will serve as an umbrella organization for individual artists, agencies and groups as well as companies such as animation, fashion and music studios, art galleries and more.
Prior to being appointed the Director of Arts by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, Madsen was a Senior Vice President of the GRAMMY Foundation and MusiCares Foundation. During her tenure, she completed a $12.5 million major gift campaign and created a new signature career education program, as well as forming the Foundation strategy and managing all fiscal activity. Before that, Madsen was Executive Director of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, leveraging new business, government and cultural relationships to gain financial support and promote local arts activities.
“I love it here,” the Los Angeles transplant said of her new Sonoma County home. “Here we are, 45 minutes from a major metropolitan area, yet, by choice, we have this very special, rural lifestyle. This is an amazing place and I’d be interested in exploring ‘place-based art-making.’ Meaning to say, ‘What is it about being in Sonoma that fuels your creative muse?’ Whether it’s the obvious answer of a painter painting the landscape or whether it’s being around the new creative technology around the Maker’s movement or whether it’s about how being at the ocean stimulates me to create my art differently. What is it about being right here, on this land, that influences artists to produce what they create?
“I believe that could be part of the cultural tourism plan. Tourism is such a powerful part of our economy. So, where do art and culture fit into that?” Creative Sonoma is currently a small organization comprised of Madsen and several contract employees. “But by picking the areas where there’s going to be room for growth, and by leveraging those and working collectively, we will grow. Everyone I’ve spoken with feels like we’re right on the cusp.”
As well as leveraging the tourism industry to boost the arts sector, Madsen said there are a number of strong, local organizations that can be used as anchors to build around.
“In addition to the terrific and extensive community of individual artists, there are a number of institutions which already exist that have a great deal of support,” she said. “For instance, there’s the Santa Rosa Symphony which is in it’s 88th season, the 3rd oldest orchestra in all of California, and is completely well-supported by the community. To think that in a community of this size this orchestras has been running in the black for many years...that’s kind of unheard of.
“So, we have to recognize that there is strong support for the arts here. Other anchor groups might be the Sonoma County Museum, which was just able to open a new contemporary wing, and the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Then there is this fantastic level of midsize organizations that are doing innovative things, such as the Transcendence Theatre Company, the Imaginists and the 6th Street Playhouse. And there are up-and-coming organizations such as the Shakespeare in the Cannery group, the women’s arts collective in Healdsburg, the UPside Dance company...that’s just a small sample of the people experimenting with new ways of doing things.”
“There are so many people here thinking forward, and thinking about what we can do collectively to move the needle for the artistic community. It’s an exciting time.”
Come to the State of Creativity Forum, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. For more information contact: Rachel Yeoh at (707) 565-6416 or