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Longtime arts advocate Connie Martinez retiring as Silicon Valley Creates CEO

Longtime arts advocate Connie Martinez retiring as Silicon Valley Creates CEO

Connie Martinez will be retiring from her role as CEO of Silicon Valley Creates at the end of the year, ending a two-decade run as an advocate for stronger arts and culture in Silicon Valley.

And while few people in the valley’s arts ecosystem can imagine what it would be like without Martinez, even she didn’t imagine where this road would lead when she took over the Children’s Discovery Museum back in 2002. She made sure to emphasize that she had plenty of support along the way.

“Although many in Silicon Valley think they did it on their own, nobody does it on their own,” said Martinez, thanking the staff members, board members, donors, mentors and colleagues who helped an “accidental arts leader” over the years.

SVCreates CEO Connie Martinez, center, poses on June 21, 2018, at theMexican Heritage Plaza theater with the organization’s 2018 Arts Laureates,from left: Kimberley Mohne Hill, Pancho Jimenez, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, TasiAlabastro, Joel Slayton and Gail Wight. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

Martinez left the Children’s Discovery Museum in 2008 to lead 1stAct Silicon Valley, an arts catalyst, and Silicon Valley Creates was born in 2013 from a merger of that group with the existing Arts Council Silicon Valley. Since then, she’s continued to push for a bigger stage for traditionally underrepresented arts groups and artists. Under her leadership, SVCreates brought in Content Magazine, a publication rich in diverse artists and groups, partnered with Santa Clara County on a poet laureate program and fostered several arts initiatives, including a recent one in Gilroy.

The arts community will get an opportunity to celebrate Martinez’s career on Oct. 19 when she will receive the Cornerstone of the Arts Award from the city of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Arts Commission. The 6 p.m. event at the Hammer Theatre Center also will honor the San Jose Museum of Art’s Let’s Look at Art program with the Creative Impact Award and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation with the Community-Based Organization/Business Support for the Arts Award.

Martinez, who says she has a natural aversion to awards, said she’s honored to receive this one. “I’m excited to share this with the entire arts community because we can be so self-oriented and I think this is an antidote to being all about the self,” she said.

Alexandra Urbanowski, a well-known arts leader who has served as Silicon Valley Creates’ associate director since 2015, will step into Martinez’s position in 2024. She says she’s honored to carry on the work of her friend and mentor to advance the role of the arts in building healthy communities and expanding access to the arts for residents across our county. But she also knows there’s nobody quite like Connie Martinez.

“Connie is a force of nature, actually a force beyond nature,” she said. “She’s the force of Connie!”

GETTING IN TUNE: The Levitt Pavilion San Jose Fall Concert Series kicks off Sunday at St. James Park with singer/songwriter Madison McFerrin, whose debut LP, “I Hope You Can Forgive Me,” dropped back in May. San Jose’s JOY., who describes herself as a “23-year-old jazz school dropout turned rhinestone rebel” opens the 3 p.m. show, which is free.

You can bring a blanket and enjoy food truck fare or offerings from Coterie Winery and local breweries in the 21-and-up beer and wine garden.

As you may know, the Friends of Levitt Pavilion have been working since 2016 to bring a concert venue to the park, which would provide no fewer than 50 free events every year with the support of the Levitt Foundation. This is the group’s third concert series, following successful runs last fall and this past spring. A $30,000 fundraising effort was launched to support this latest series, which will run Sundays throughout October, but it’s still about $3,500 short of its goal. You can find out more at www.levittsanjose.org.

BIG WEEKEND IN LITTLE ITALY: There’s a lot going on in San Jose’s Little Italy district near SAP Center this weekend. First, the Italian Cellar is having a VIP opening Saturday night. A few tickets remain at $75 each to get one of the first looks at the speakeasy-style bar in the basement of the in-progress Italian Museum and Cultural Center. The evening includes an Italian dinner (were you expecting Korean?), drinks and special performance by New York-based singer Vanessa Racci. Get tickets at givebutter.com/c/ItalianCellar.

And Sunday is also the sixth annual Little Italy Festival, which should draw thousands of people starting at 11 a.m. Fortunately, it sounds like there are enough food options to keep everyone going, and if the lines are too long for your taste, you can always check out the display of Italian sports cars or listen to performances by headliner Pasquale Esposito, the Anthony Nino Lane Band, Cory Pesatauro or the aforementioned Vanessa Racci. You can get more details at www.littleitalysj.com.