For nearly eight years, Sandee McGee has served as gallery director at the Umpqua Valley Art Center. In that time, McGee has organized countless art exhibits and events, including the annual Umpqua Plein Air, Member’s show, Student show, Artworks Northwest and the recent Faces of the Umpqua Valley project. She also helps organize the Summer Arts Festival each year.
“It’s been almost eight years of doing a job that I love in a place that totally enriches my life and with people that I care deeply about,” McGee said.
Last month, McGee was selected as the interim director of the Umpqua Valley Arts Association.
“I was nervous coming into the job, knowing it had a whole set of things that I haven’t ever done but being able to work with the board and help steady the ship through this transition is amazing. It is almost a natural transition for me,” McGee said.
“We are thrilled that Sandee has agreed to serve in this capacity as we continue implementing our transition plan to find a permanent executive director and leader of our special organization. We have the utmost confidence she will provide strong leadership during this time of transition.” UVA Board President Emily Brandt said.
The UVAA’s board of directors is still attempting to find a permanent full-time executive director, but no timeframe has been determined to fill the position.
McGee grew up in a single parent household in a small town in the San Francisco bay area. She received her studio art degree from Mills College, a mere 30 minutes away from her home town. Her art journey started with drawing and painting before evolving into photography.
She achieved her Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Oregon with the goal of becoming a full time college art teacher. Prior to her work with the association, McGee was an adjunct art professor at Umpqua Community College for seven years.
It was during a difficult transition in her life that a friend suggested McGee apply for the gallery director position. McGee said she was familiar with the art center because she had shown work there, but didn’t know a lot about it before she applied.
She took the gallery director position in September 2013. Right away, McGee began helping with the plans for the 2014 Summer Arts Festival. She was scared and overwhelmed, operating on what she said was sheer adrenalin. But it was in the midst of that uncertainty that McGee realized she had found a home away from home.
“I think that first festival for me was when, for the first time in my life, I knew that I wasn’t alone and there was this feeling of togetherness from what we could accomplish together,” McGee said. “I didn’t know what I needed, but when I got to the arts center I got what I needed to grow my roots and find my community. It’s the perfect place for me.”
From there, McGee’s success grew. She has organized at least 30 art exhibits a year, helped organize a team of volunteers and with the day to day operations of the center.
“The UVA Board of Directors and staff are committed more than ever to building upon our recent successes and continuing to serve the community at large by providing art experiences, art education, and creative opportunities for all,” UVA Community Outreach Director Sarah Holborow said. “Sandee’s leadership during this critical moment in time where we are planning the reopening of our doors to the public is essential.”
As interim director, McGee will continue to organize exhibits while also working with the board of directors on finances. The cancellation of the Summer Arts Festival has taken a financial toll on the art center. McGee has been helping with the applications for various grants and relief funds.
“A big part of my job right now is seeking funds to get us through this time period. Fortunately, there have been a lot of relief grants and federal monies,” McGee said. “Thinking about fundraising and how we get creative to keep our doors open.”
Above all, Sandee says it is the people — the board, staff, association members and numerous volunteers — that keeps her going.
“All of this is amazing to me,” McGee said. “I am grateful every single day for where I am and who I am with.”