by Annette N. Doud & James Glynn (Madera Tribune)
Somewhat dwarfed by stacks of labeled boxes, file cabinets and bookcases surrounding her desk, Rochelle Noblett sits as the newly selected Madera County Arts Council executive director.
Her office is in the back of Circle Gallery, the arts council’s retail store at 1653 N. Schnoor Ave. Local, and sometimes regional, artwork is displayed and sold there. It also is the headquarters of the arts council’s Arts in Education program, which places professional artists in local classrooms.
Noblett brings plenty of retail, fundraising and educational experience to her new job. She was president of Pete’s Sport Shop in downtown Madera for 36 years, during which time she modernized the building’s façade and expanded the offerings from general sporting goods to include graphic design, screen printing, embroidery, and various modes of advertising.
From 2001 to 2013, the Business Journal has placed Pete’s Sport Shop on its list of the “Top 20 Women Owned Businesses.” In 2005, she won the award for “California State Small Business of the Year, Assembly District 25.” That same year, the Fresno Bee honored her with its “Excellence in Business Award.” She has also been named “Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Woman of the Year” (1998) and one of the “Top Ten Business and Professional Women of the Central Valley” (2002).
“We need space,” she said. “We have stacks of boxes in every room, even in the small kitchen and restroom. We have to lean artwork down the hallway between shows while waiting for the artists to retrieve their work. We also have no place to store the art that is bequeathed to us.
“We need a space where we can offer exciting art classes for both adults and kids,” she continued. “We need things that will bring people into an art center. We need to make it a fun place. We need space where we can entertain at gallery show openings. Now, they spill into the parking lot. We need to increase traffic, and membership, and funding sources.”
Her plans include trying to find a larger, temporary space, now that the financial outlook for building a new arts center has improved.
The Madera County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to contribute $95,862 to help fund the Downtown Madera Master Plan and Performing Arts Center, plus a contribution of $85,655 for a study and recommendations on renovating the old county library, fronting Yosemite Avenue across from Courthouse Park, for an art gallery. That is in addition to a $2.5 million dollar grant from the Frank and Elaine Secara estate, and money promised from the school district.
The proposed Downtown Cultural Arts Center will not happen quickly, she said, “so we desperately need a larger space now.” Noblett’s business experience is likely to be put to good use as the search for larger quarters goes on.
She organized the Candlelight Christmas Open House and Wine Stroll, which accompanied the annual Tractor Parade from 1993 to 2012. As president of the Kiwanis Club of Madera and the Madera Downtown Association, she negotiated a partnership that resulted in the Old Timers Day Parade and the placement of the colorful banners in the downtown area.
As a member and past president of the State Center Community College Foundation, she has been involved with fundraising for student scholarships and the renovation of the Old Administration Building at Fresno City College. In 2006, the Madera Center of the State Center Community College District recognized her as “Business Supporter of the Year.” And, the Madera County Arts Council honored her in 2000 with its “Community Service Award.”
Noblett received her Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude from California State University, Fresno, where she also took post-graduate classes. A Madera High School graduate, she spent a semester with Chapman College’s “World Campus Afloat,” which emphasized art history as the ship circumnavigated the globe. Additionally, she has attended numerous seminars that explored fundraising techniques.
Noblett said, “I am thrilled to be part of this organization at such an exciting time. Thanks to the generous gift from the Frank and Elaine Secara estate, the downtown performing arts center can be a game changer for all of Madera.”
Noblett also is a fine artist in her own right, as well as a graphic designer. “I just began a series of four paintings,” she said, smiling. “I’ll have to show you. I love drawing Native Americans and animals. I need to take time to do this.”