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Chris DeNatale, president and CEO, Arts Council Napa Valley

Chris DeNatale, president and CEO, Arts Council Napa Valley.

Chris DeNatale has been on the job as the new president and CEO at Arts Council Napa Valley since only February, but he’s already identified one of his most important to-do items:

Listen.

“Listen to our artists, listen to our arts organizations, listen to our funders and government partners, and really hear what people need,” said DeNatale.

“Once I feel like I understand the whole picture, I can begin to take action that will benefit the whole community.”

1. What was your childhood ambition?

I wanted to be a lawyer like Perry Mason, who fought for those who were wronged.

2. What was your first job?

I was a salesperson at Big 5 Sporting Goods in Vallejo.

3. What job would you like to try/not try?

Try: Musician.

Not try: Accountant…especially during tax season. My mom did this job for years and you could feel the stress of tax season coming on.

4. How did you get into the arts industry?

I spent the first 15 years of my career working in radio, TV, and newspapers. Commuting to S.F. from Napa for many years had taken its toll and I really wanted to give back and work to better my community.

I had the chance to be on the team that reopened the Lincoln Theater and the energy around that community really excited me.

I next worked on the executive team at Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley (BGCNV), where I saw the power of arts as tool in youth development and learned the tools that go into nonprofit leadership.

My time at BGCNV as well as participation in Leadership Napa Valley Class 30 gave me the tools to be ready to assume a leadership role at Arts Council Napa Valley.

5. What is the biggest challenge the arts industry has faced?

Limited funding sources for arts organizations, artists, and arts education have been a huge challenge for the arts sector in Napa County.

It is an exciting opportunity, as the head of the Arts Council Napa Valley, to address this problem with our Community Fund Grant Program.

This is the only grant program in Napa County that funds individual artists, as well as small arts nonprofits.

6. Who do you most admire in the business world?

In the nonprofit world in Napa, I greatly admire Terence Mulligan (CEO of Napa Valley Community Foundation).

He’s kind and fair, and has really been able to align his organization to serve the community based on needs.

7. If you could change one thing about the arts industry, what would it be?

I would change the assumption that the arts are “extra” and can be cut without long-term consequences, and the prevailing thought that exposure for artists is as beneficial as payment.

8. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?

Perry Farrell, Ralph Steadman and Charles Dickens. All three have really made a HUGE impact on me through their respective arts.

  • Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction introduced me to music as a vehicle to promote change and it really spoke to me as a junior high student trying to find my own way and identity.
  • Ralph Steadman, who did most of Hunter S. Thompson’s graphics for his books, was the first visual artists to jump off the page for me and really drove me to be comfortable with art as an expression while I was in high school.
  • I first saw “A Christmas Carol” at the American Conservatory Theater when I was in the 4th grade and that started my lifelong love of both literature and live theater.

9. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?

I would love to love leave a legacy of a sustainable arts ecosystem by creatively solving the funding equation for the arts in Napa County.

I want our arts organizations and artists to focus on creating and thriving, rather than surviving.

10. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

I grew up in Colma, Calif., which is famous for having more dead residents than living, as it is where the San Francisco cemeteries were moved when they were banned around the turn of the century, because the land was deemed too valuable.

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DeNatale can be reached at Chris@ArtsCouncilnv.org or 707-257-2117.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.