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Dance department administrator organizes community art show

Sylvia Nuzzo Philis, who has worked to strengthen the artistic presence in Concord, is an active member of the Employee Wellness Committee at Mills. (Sarah Melish)
Sylvia Nuzzo Philis, who has worked to strengthen the artistic presence in Concord, is an active member of the Employee Wellness Committee at Mills. (Sarah Melish)

Inside the aRt Cottage, an eclectic art gallery, community artists displayed their work as part of a recent effort to  develop the artistic landscape in Concord.

The opening reception, held by the The Concord Community of Artists on Mar. 7, was in honor of their show, Concord Arts Alive! Emerge. For the month of March, 21 artists — along with 16 students from Clayton Valley Charter High School — presented their work at the aRt Cottage to “celebrate their civic identity of being Concord-based artists.” 

The diversity of artists who participated in Concord Arts Alive!  ranged from established professionals to students who were showing their art for the first time. The mediums presented varied widely from paintings, to photography, mixed media and wire sculpture.

Inside, visitors interacted with a map of the city, pointing out landmarks and using pins to mark where they locate themselves within the city. Visitors of all ages floated about the gallery, taking in the variety of colors and styles showcased within the space. Sylvia Nuzzo Philis, a co-organizer of the show as well as a participating artist, greeted people finding their way in and encouraged them to visit the map. When she is not busy with her art — photography, making art books and organizing — Nuzzo Philis is also the administrator for the Mills College dance department.

“It’s wonderful for me to have an understandable language I can speak with in my professional world here at Mills and then have it be so relatable to what I do outside of Mills,” Nuzzo Philis said.

Nuzzo Philis moved to Concord, Calif. in 2007, the same year she started working at Mills. Looking to be part of a new artistic and creative community similar to the one she left behind in her hometown of Edmonton, Canada, Nuzzo Philis started a MeetUp group online for artists in the area. The group later formed the Concord Community of Artists. 

Nuzzo Philis saw the need for more incorporation of the arts in Concord. In an effort to make the arts more visible to city leaders, she invited the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce and the local newspapers to a VIP event at the gallery to show how viable artists and the arts are to the fabric of the community.

“I took the last year to see every kind of art event in Concord so that I could see what is happening,” Nuzzo Philis said. “There is a lot happening in the square in the summer, however, I think we are just ripe and ready for a little bit more of a presence that isn’t just the added entertainment or the added piece.”

According to Nuzzo Philis, Concord is very serious about appealing to families and takes a “Families First” approach.  Nuzzo Philis saw arts programming aimed at younger children, but felt there was a gap as the children got older. For a city its size, she thought there was a lot more that could be happening in Concord and wanted to connect with more children at the high school level.

 “There was some really impressive work from the high school students. They held their own in the space just like any of the other artists did,” Nuzzo Philis said. “Working at Mills, it is so natural for me to think about students and what they do and how they can be included in the community.”

At Mills, Nuzzo Philis uses her dance and artistic backgrounds, as well as years of experience organizing, to manage the creative and administrative demands of the nationally renowned dance department. Professors and students value her ability to keep the department running smoothly. Dance Professor Sonya Delwaide-Nichols praises her talent in managing faculty and visiting dance artists, as well as organizing events.

“First of all, she is an artist herself, so she brings her understanding of the arts. And more than that, she understands the demands behind being an artist,” said Delwaide-Nichols. “She is extremely conscientious and has a keen eye for making sure that everything is taken care of. Sometimes it is difficult to see the whole picture when problems arise, but Sylvia, no matter what, is able to do so.”

Nuzzo Philis feels fortunate to be immersed in the community at Mills. She takes art history classes when she can and is an active member of the Employee Wellness Committee.

“The environment here at Mills is about education, it’s about pursuit, it’s about action towards whatever it is that fuels you. That’s part of our fiber here,” Nuzzo Philis said. “Mills supports that just because of what we stand for — for the students and what we stand for within the organization.”

Nia Fitzpatrick, a junior double major in dance and early childhood education, appreciates the way Nuzzo Philis keeps her informed so that she can remember to attend dance events in the community.

“Sylvia is an extremely important person in the dance department because she sends out all the emails letting us know what’s going on.  She keeps us connected, ” said Fitzpatrick.  “She lets us know about master classes, workshops and events on and off campus.”

Organizing Concord Arts Alive! Emerge has sparked Nuzzo Philis’s interest in becoming more involved in civic council meetings.  She also looks forward to incorporating more dance and performance into her arts community.

“You have to see what is happening. Get in the loop,” Nuzzo Philis said. “Even just being in the loop makes you a better, more capable citizen, I think. Even if you’re not quite ready to do anything just yet.”

 For information about the Concord Community Artists and to see pictures from the show, visit their website