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Rafaty named new ED for Napa Valley Museum

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St. Helena's Laura Rafaty

St. Helena’s Laura Rafaty was recently appointed as executive director of the Napa Valley Museum.

St. Helenan Laura Rafaty has been appointed as executive director of Napa Valley Museum by its board of trustees.

NVM President Ronda Schaer states, “The board enthusiastically welcomes Laura to our organization and we look forward to her leadership. After months of an extensive nationwide search, we have found the right person to take the Napa Valley Museum into a successful and long-term future.”

Rafaty is known in the Napa Valley as an experienced nonprofit arts leader, producer and writer, and also brings decades of both nonprofit and for-profit business and legal experience to her new position. She said she is very familiar with Yountville and the Museum, having served as Producing Director for the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, from 2013 to 2015.

Rafaty said, “Returning to Yountville and to the grounds of the Veterans’ Home, feels like coming home. The Napa Valley Museum has always represented such an extraordinary resource for our community, and I am excited to work with the Board of Trustees, staff, partner businesses and nonprofits, and our local community of artists and residents, to transition into a more participatory museum for the 21st century. Presenting extraordinary art and Napa Valley history, along with community events, speakers, screenings and performances, provides a means to engage museum visitors in an active way, and to foster collaboration among artists across different media, genres, geography, and generations. I envision the Museum as a cultural hub and gathering place for creativity that will inspire people to visit regularly. And I look forward to expanding the museum’s excellent educational programs, creating a family tradition of museum membership.”

Rafaty combines solid business expertise with marketing flair and an ability to engage the best emerging and established artists. She won praise from arts leaders like Michael Madden, former executive director of the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, who said, “Laura is a rare mix of someone with great creative talent and the operating skills to pull off the impossible. She understands how to balance the needs of a local organization while inspiring people to strive for world-class creative excellence.”

Rafaty has lived in St. Helena since 2001. She has served as the first executive director of the Friends of the Cameo Cinema from 2015-2016, and until recently worked with the Napa Valley Opera House as director of Partnerships & Outreach, managing their education and community programming. A Tony-nominated Broadway producer, in 2014 she founded the nonprofit NapaShakes, which has successfully brought the best of Shakespeare from New York and London to the Napa Valley’s stages and classrooms.

She won many local fans while writing her “Up the Valley” column, a three-time winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for humor, appearing bi-weekly from 2010 to 2014 in the St. Helena Star. She currently serves as the St. Helena representative to the Napa County Arts & Culture Advisory Committee.

Rafaty, an attorney since 1985, practiced law with two major San Francisco law firms and with solo practices in Sausalito and St. Helena. For more than a decade, she ran business operations and international legal affairs for a major global nonprofit based in Palo Alto. And as owner of the St. Helena retailer Pennaluna from 2005 to 2012 she sold, among other things, limited edition and original art by Lowell Herrero, Aaron Foster and Daniel Hale.

“Ironically,” Rafaty said, “I moved to the Napa Valley planning to open an art gallery based on my relationships with New York artists, then took a 15-year-long detour into retail and local nonprofit management. Joining the Museum feels like I’ve finally come full circle.”

Rafaty succeeds Phil Kohlmetz, who left the museum in 2016 for personal reasons. Rafaty officially assumed her role on March 15. She can be reached at laura@napavalleymuseum.org.

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