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New direction for nonprofit

For those charged with awakening the artistic spirit of the developmentally disabled, a walk through the Neighborhood Center of the Arts Wednesday to see paint flowing from a client’s fingers or fabric sprouting from a workstation tells the evolving tale of a success story.

It is here where a sheet of artist’s paper burns with color, or a simple strand of costume jewelry becomes a personal triumph.

It’s a vision that has been 20 years in the making for the Center of the Arts, a nonprofit that survives despite dwindling resources from the state and a small but loyal following of benefactors intent on providing a creative outlet for a special segment of the county’s population.



It’s a vision also shared by the nonprofit’s new executive director, Glen Baird, an Australian native who aims to find new avenues for his clients to showcase their craft while boosting their financial fortunes on a national stage.

“This is where they spend their working life, their social life,” Baird said. “To be able to interact with their peers is very important.”




“It’s more than therapy,” said Ellen Persa, the nonprofit’s previous executive director who steered the group for 2 1/2 years. “It’s a creative outlet for their talents.”

Like his predecessors, Baird is charged with the dual roles of finding more money to support the instructors and a counselor at the Neighborhood Center of the Arts while promoting the work of his clients on a regional, even national scale to boost their profile and the nonprofit’s bottom line.

To that end, Baird, the product of three generations of Australian coal miners, is ready to put his experience to good use.

Before coming to Nevada County, Baird worked as chief fund-raiser for a San Francisco-based nonprofit specializing in the same types of services provided by the Neighborhood Center of the Arts.

While working in San Francisco’s Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, Baird was able to use the sales of client artwork to help reduce by 30 percent the nonprofit’s dependence on money from the state of California. More than 90 percent of the Neighborhood Center of the Arts $800,000 yearly budget comes from the state.

Works from clients at the Neighborhood Center have been shown locally in schools, at the Rood Center and sold at the Nevada County Fair.

Soon, Baird hopes to display the talents of the clients on a nationwide scale.

In January, Baird plans to exhibit some of the clients’ artwork at a Hospital Audiences Inc. art show on New York City’s Broadway. The New York-based nonprofit arts organization provides access to the arts for those with mental and physical disabilities.

In Baird’s view, the possibility of greatness for the Nevada County clients, whose dreams are created daily during increasingly uncertain financial times, is real.

“Part of my vision is to make clear how increasingly dependent we will become on outside sources of income,” he said. “We can’t rely on the state for everything we need.”


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