Changing of the guard

Posted: May 22nd, 2015 | Communities, Featured, Normal Heights | No Comments

Normal Heights-based Young Audiences of San Diego hires new executive director

By Margie M. Palmer

Young Audiences of San Diego (YASD) has selected Tara Graviss as its new executive director. Graviss replaces Felicia Shaw, the interim executive director who left to join the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission earlier this month.

Based in Normal Heights, YASD has spent the past 50 years dedicating its mission to helping make sure that arts education is available to children within the region. Board chair Cathy Stephenson said that because of this, the organization searched long and hard to find someone who was well-rounded, passionate about the arts, and had fundraising and management experience.

Tara Graviss is the new executive director of Young Audiences of San Diego, based in Normal Heights. (Courtesy of YASD)

Tara Graviss is the new executive
director of Young Audiences of San
Diego, based in Normal Heights.
(Courtesy of YASD)

“Young Audiences of San Diego inspires children to imagine a world, and to create a world through the arts and different arts forms,” Stephenson said. “It was really important to us to hire someone who understood our background but could also help communicate our passion to potential funders.”

The official search began last November, she said, and although their focus was primarily regional, they did entertain a few candidates who were located outside of the immediate area.

“There were a few who were really interested and who had the ability to come to San Diego and hit the position from the ground running because they already knew our partner school system and our arts partners,” Stephenson said, noting that although the organization worked its way through several rounds of interviews with highly qualified finalists, they believed Graviss was the best fit.

The new executive director’s resume includes over 15 years of executive planning, administration, communications and marketing experience in the nonprofit sector. Her nonprofit background includes leadership roles at Sylvan Learning Centers, A Reason to Survive, and the Center for Community Solutions. She expects to receive her master’s degree in expressive arts therapy in June 2016.

Graviss, who noted she has been volunteering in arts and arts education for about as long as she can remember, became involved with YASD in 2011 after learning that the organization was looking to fill a vacancy on the board of directors.

Throughout her tenure in that role, she ran YASD’s annual fundraiser on three occasions; each year, she helped increase their gross and net funding and was also able to help bring in a handful of corporate sponsorships that the organization did not previously have.

Once Graviss realized the executive director’s position was available and she had an interest in pursuing it, she recused herself from the board and tossed her hat into the ring.

“For me, it’s about following your passions and calling. I was really involved in YASD for several years and it really felt like the stars aligned,” she said. “I’m excited to be a part of it and am lucky that I get to do something I’m so passionate about full-time.”

She and Stephenson said they are very much looking forward to the path ahead.

“There are still a lot of people outside of the arts education community that don’t know who we are. It’s our hope to expand our profile and our footprint so that more people know about what we’re doing and so we can ultimately serve more children,” Stephenson said. “I really feel [Tara] is well-equipped to do a wonderful job and we’re just delighted that she is at the helm.”

“We are already working on collaborations with the San Diego Unified School District as well as the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture,” Graviss said. “Once we have our infrastructure down, we’ll me moving forward with some other ideas, and will continue to work to serve children in San Diego the best way we can.”

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at


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