Debra Lucero’s Passion for Art
By Laura Christman
Photo by Erin Claassen
Art is essential. It’s not an add-on.
That’s how Debra Lucero sees it. Working within the red brick walls of one of Redding’s oldest buildings, the executive director of the Shasta County Arts Council is taking Northern California arts into new territory.
“I want arts to be recognized — to be a power to be reckoned with,” she says.
Lucero has been in her job for six years, earning praise for her ideas, leadership, collaboration and tenacity.
“If you are working with Debra on anything, you know it is going to get done. And you know it is going to be better than you imagined it,” Viva Downtown Executive Director John Truitt says.
“She doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Carl Bott, owner of KCNR radio. “She has a clear vision of what she believes in and what she thinks Redding can be.”
The Arts Council, like a collage made of multiple materials, has many layers and textures. The nonprofit organization orchestrates a packed calendar of recitals, exhibits, performances, dance classes, drumming sessions and more at its Old City Hall headquarters in downtown Redding. It collaborates with Viva Downtown, Visit Redding, Shasta Historical Society and other organizations and agencies to put on festivals, performances, exhibits and other community events, such as the downtown Hops and Shops on Feb. 25.
Lucero focuses her energy on championing the arts.
“My role, my calling, is to advocate,” she says. “I like bringing arts to the main table.”
Artists add value to a community, Lucero says. “They are curious people who figure out how to do things with what they have.”
Lucero isn’t an artist — her background is journalism — but she has the artist trait of being drawn to possibilities. She leads “This Place Matters — Redding,” a new coalition pushing for a downtown cultural district to preserve historic assets and encourage establishment of shops, galleries, restaurants and performing spaces.
Art is intertwined in a community’s past and present, and key to its future, Lucero believes.
“Debra knows that arts and culture boost our economy, and that a robust economy boosts arts and culture,” says Shannon Phillips, vice president of operations for The McConnell Foundation, which has worked with the Arts Council on several grants.
In 2013, Lucero sought — and got — the contract to operate Redding public access television. Shasta County Arts Council became the first arts council in the state to take on such a role.
“A lot of people were like, ‘What does that have to do with the arts?’” Lucero says. “My answer: ‘What doesn’t it have to do with the arts?’”
Shasta Community Access Center TV is an opportunity to increase awareness of arts by covering exhibits, concerts and other events, she says. Television shows can be developed to highlight the area’s musicians, painters and dancers, or to explain processes, such as a step-by-step show on how to paint.
Lucero sees the upstairs television studio at Old City Hall as a learning laboratory — a place to gain skills in scriptwriting, sound recording, filming and editing. The Arts Council has held two digital media summer camps. It partners with Pacific Sky and Record Searchlight on the 530 Media Project, offering community workshops on Google Drive, Facebook, blogging, video editing and other topics. Those skills matter to today’s artists, who reach audiences via websites and social media, Lucero notes.
“It’s put us on a whole different path,” she says of the television contract. “It brought us into a new age.”
In addition to her job in Redding, Lucero heads Friends of the Arts Upstate, a California Arts Council partner for Butte County in Chico. She recently established True North Arts & Culture Alliance, a network of arts organizations in Shasta, Butte, Siskiyou, Tehama and Trinity counties to create a bigger voice for the arts in rural areas. The alliance hosted a California Arts Council meeting in Redding last September.
In June, Lucero joined the board of Californians for the Arts, a statewide organization.
Lucero was born in Chico, grew up in Corning and attended Shasta College and Chico State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and was a journalist for newspapers in Red Bluff, Paradise, Chico and Orange County. She worked for National Council of La Raza, a Latino lobbying group, and established a consulting firm, Debra Lucero and Associates, working in economic development and tourism.
Her husband, Ray Laager, is an artist. Lucero describes him as “a jewelry designer and clothing tie-dye king.” They have three grown children — two daughters and a son.