Attending three events a weekend, teaching two exercise classes a week and fundraising almost a million dollars for a local arts center is just another year in the life of Patricia Jones.
As president and executive director for the last ten and a half years at the Alliance for the Arts for The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in California, Patricia is responsible for all of the official fundraising for the center, some which assists local children and adults with exposure and appreciation for the arts.
“I enjoy most — and get the biggest charge out of — seeing the children come to shows, it brings tears to my eyes; they are so excited,” she said. The organization raises funds as part of an outreach to students from Title 1 schools and underserved areas that don’t have an arts curriculum.
“We supply study guides to teachers to explain to students about the show they will see, provide the bus transportation and the ticket to the show,” Patricia said. Shows include “The Nutcracker,” “Super Scientific Circus,” “The Secret Garden” and more. The primary focus is on third-graders, however if they are reaching out to a new school, they will address third- to six-graders in education.
“Before the show starts, they’re swinging their legs, waiting in anticipation, especially if they’ve never been here. The come all dressed up. The announcer announces the show is about to start, and 1800 students all scream at once. The lights go down, and they’re all quiet at once. It’s so worthwhile,” she said.
She said “no” for a good year. With a laugh, she said, “I knew what the job was!” Now, it’s so much a part of who she is. But the arts, she said, from an early age “literally saved me.”
As a child she attended parochial school where she attended 8 a.m. mass. At that time it was custom to fast for three hours prior to communion. “I was always fainting, the nuns were always mad at me.” So she said as a third- or fourth-grader she looked around, saw the organ, “and I thought, that’s the best seat in the house. The person playing was off away from everyone else and was seated the whole time.” So after mass, she told the nun she wanted to play. “The nun said, ‘bless you my child,'” Patricia said.
“But I couldn’t play a note! I was lying through my teeth; I didn’t know how to play.” She said she came right home, made a friend teach her and luckily she was naturally musically inclined, learned six chords and was able to play immediately. “I played by ear-I played the chords with the left hand and played the right hand by ear to complement.
“The arts saved me — I never fainted again,” she said. Patricia went on to play for twenty years. Her mom recently drove out from Michigan to California and gave her the very organ that she played on as a child, which is more than a hundred years old, and sits in her home where she can play occasionally.
Married to another arts lover, George, who sits on the board of directors at the center — which is how she met him — the couple is often out attending events. Before shows start, Patricia greets people for twenty minutes. “It’s relationship building, building trust, people seeing you,” she said. “It’s a 24/7 job.”
While it is very glamorous — meeting celebrities, hob-knobbing with the wealthy, she said it is also a lot of hard work. “You have to really love the nonprofit you’re supporting. It is very hard, but very rewarding.”
“And each year we’re pushed to do more. I hear the goals, and I sink a little in my chair, but we get through it somehow, it just happens.” She credits her longtime staff, raves about her team and said they have a lot of fun doing what they do.
Patricia also tries to take care of herself mentally and physically, teaching water aerobics on Thursday nights and spinning on Sundays. “It keeps me from jumping off the roof of the Civic Arts Plaza,” she said with a laugh. But the most obvious thing about talking with this woman is that her passion for what she does permeates throughout her personality. While the fundraising field has a high turnover, she enjoys what she does and says to be successful you have to have enthusiasm for the product you promote. “As my mom said when I took the job,” Patricia said, ‘”that’s where you belong.'”