For her commitment to the arts in Napa County, Jamie Graff was selected as the 2015 Napa County Arts Hero by the Arts Council Napa Valley.
“All the things I’ve been able to do has been a team effort. I’ve just been good at surrounding myself with great people,” Graff said of the recognition.
“I feel like I’m accepting it with great honor for the team. I think everybody should be getting it,” she said.
There is so much creativity and commitment, and the community is nourishing, “it rains down on us and I walk around without an umbrella,” she said.
A Calistoga resident, Graff is the executive director and co-founder of Nimbus Arts in St. Helena, a community-driven educational arts organization that provides art classes and other programs for children and adults.
Prior to her work at Nimbus Arts, Graff was a winemaker, agricultural educator and small-business owner as well as founder of the Napa Valley Soapbox Derby and St. Helena Harvest Festival Fun Run.
Quick to downplay and defer her leadership and involvement in myriad civic-minded projects, Graff has been behind programs like the Mariposa Project, Dia de los Muertos Celebration, and Napa River environmental arts and performance project that harness the power of the arts to engage the community in vital cultural and social issues.
She also collaborated with Calistoga Art Center (CAC) and Calistoga residents Robert Marvan and his wife, Molly McGowan, to produce the inaugural Cedar Street Festival last year that raised money for scholarships for children for Nimbus Arts and CAC.
Nimbus Arts’ Hundreds of Hands: Mariposa program, launched in 2011, is an 18-month-long free public art leadership project with Mariposa, Napa County Office of Education’s middle school empowerment and anti-abuse program for at-risk Latinas.
Nimbus works with the Mariposa leadership youth team to work with other community members, youth groups and school classrooms to create mosaic butterflies. As hundreds of butterflies are created they get incorporated into a final mural installation that will be installed at the Cope Family Center this fall, Graff said.
The installation is two panes 8 feet by 12 feet each and includes the mosaic elements created by more than 500 children, teens and adults throughout the valley.
Mariposa was started in 2007 in response to a high teen pregnancy rate among young Latinas.
Through private funding Nimbus secured, 20 Mariposa high school mentors were given more than 70 hours of free basic art skill building, mosaic instruction and community art leadership experiences. Final funding is sought to cover installation costs.
The Mariposa program was started by Vicka Llamas, who worked for the Napa County Office of Education and now serves as the principal of Calistoga Elementary.
Graff was selected unanimously by the Arts Council Napa Valley board of directors from more than 34 publicly submitted nominations. The board was looking for a community member committed to arts in Napa County, a champion who forges through seemingly impossible feats, takes risks and makes things possible for an organization or the community.
Graff doesn’t necessarily think she’s that person. She said Dana Johnson, with whom Graff founded Nimbus in 2005, is “really the unsung hero” and “was the one that put me on the quest to make this happen,” she said.
The awards presentation was held April 2.
“I’m grateful to the people who appreciate and receive the work we’ve been doing. There’s really so many things we do out in the community,” and so many people who give time and money generously, and it’s Nimbus that pieces it together, Graff said.
“I feel like I accept it with great honor for the team.”
With something always happening at Nimbus, Graff is currently focused on the next event, Nimbash, an art party meets fundraiser on May 16 at the Nimbus Barn in St. Helena.
Nimbash includes interactive art activities, silent and live auctions, live music and performing arts, artisan food and wine tastings, fashion show and dancing.
The money raised supports classes, scholarships and other programs for Nimbus.