San Benito County Arts Council Executive Director Jennifer Laine received the 2023 Woman of the Year award from District 29 Assemblymember Robert Rivas March 20 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Contributed photo

Hollister resident Jennifer Laine—who has had a lifelong passion for art and creativity and dedicated her career to arts advocacy—was honored this week as the 2023 Woman of the Year for the 29th Assembly District. 

Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who represents District 29, announced the recognition earlier this week. On March 20, Laine and her mother traveled to Sacramento to accept the award from Rivas. 

Laine is the Executive Director of the San Benito County Arts Council, a nonprofit organization that aims to connect local people to the arts by providing arts programming. She has served in that position since 2010, during which time she has been instrumental in securing significant funding—from state, regional and private sources—for arts programs, grants and outreach in San Benito County. 

Recent accomplishments include Laine’s participation in a regional effort in 2022 to bring more than $5 million in state arts funding for individual artist grants for the new California Creative Corps Program—a workforce development initiative that employs artists as messengers in climate impact, social justice, civic engagement and public health campaigns. 

Laine is also working closely with the California Department of Transportation on two Clean California Highway Beautification projects to integrate large-scale public art pieces in the local transportation system. 

The Woman of the Year award is particularly welcome, Laine said, because the San Benito County Arts Council is a woman-led organization, with about 90% of its board members and staff identifying as women. 

“The Woman of the Year award is an honor in so many respects,” Laine said. “First, it is wonderful to be recognized alongside other inspiring women leaders in California; secondly, it really motivates me to keep up, and step up, my work in the arts. This award makes me especially grateful for all the wonderful, funny, smart, and supportive women in my life—from my close colleagues, my mom, my sister, my daughter, friends and neighbors—who continue to inspire and support me daily, and I hope to do the same for them.”

Laine also serves on the board of Californians for the Arts, a statewide arts advocacy organization. She was recently elected as Chair of that board’s policy committee. Laine also serves on the leadership team of the statewide Coalition of County Arts Agencies, leading efforts to attract funding for arts councils and commissions throughout California.

In a statement, Rivas emphasized the work that Laine and the arts council have done to improve access to the arts for underserved local residents—and acknowledged that her advocacy extends far beyond San Benito County. 

“I am proud to recognize Jennifer as Assembly District 29’s 2023 Woman of the Year,” Rivas said. “Her work in the arts has had an incredible impact on our region and our communities. As Executive Director of the San Benito County Arts Council, Jennifer has created enrichment opportunities for some of our most vulnerable youth in San Benito County. I am grateful for Jennifer’s service and commitment, and I look forward to (seeing) how she continues to elevate the arts throughout our local community as well as across California.”

Assembly District 29 includes all of San Benito County, as well as portions of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. 

In a recent interview, Laine said a key focus of the arts council’s efforts is the more underserved residents of all ages—and particularly local students who may not have the resources for art lessons or classes outside of school. 

“We’ve really built our role and focus around being the biggest arts education provider in the county,” Laine said. “We also do a lot of programs in juvenile hall and continuation schools, with a focus on an art and healing element, so that students have the opportunity to participate in the arts (and) to work through a lot of mental and emotional health challenges. And art is a great conduit for that.”

The arts council’s efforts have been increasingly fruitful with Laine at the helm. When Laine first joined the arts council, the executive director position was a part-time job. Today, the council has a staff of 15. Since 2010, Laine and the local nonprofit have opened three multidisciplinary arts spaces and co-created the City of Hollister’s first public art policy. 

Laine also emphasized that the council’s mission includes advocacy for “arts, culture and creativity”—a list that purposely encompasses all forms of creativity, and not just the visual or fine arts. That includes Laine’s personal creative passion of dancing, which she has studied, performed and taught for most of her life. Currently, Laine enjoys all styles of Latin dance, including salsa, bachata, cumbia and merengue. 

Laine is not quite a lifelong Hollister resident, but her family moved here when she was age two. Her mother is a prolific artist who in turn has inspired Laine’s lifelong passion for the arts. 

Currently, Laine’s “greatest joy in life” is her three children. She said one piece of advice she consistently imparts to her kids is, when choosing a career path, pick something that “contributes good to the world. Do something that’s going to have a positive impact in the community.”

It’s clear that Laine has found and succeeded in such a path—and she still has much to do. 

“It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to grow this organization, to really communicate the value and impact of the arts locally (and) to build a community of artists and arts supporters,” she said. “I feel like there is still so much work to do.”

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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