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New Sesnon Art Gallery Director Valéria Miranda is Passionate About the Power of the Arts

Valéria Miranda

Valéria Miranda has several ideas about what she’ll do as the new director of the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. For years, Miranda has been coming to campus to attend performances and lectures and to see exhibitions at the gallery, and she looks forward to collaborating with faculty members, students and alumni.  

“I’m also interested in creating cross departmental collaboration. My artistic practice is in dance, so I’m interested in working with dance faculty and theater and film,” she said. “Coming from working in community-based organizations and art museums, I really love making connections with the community, and I know the people in Santa Cruz are super curious and super interested in the university.” 

Miranda will wait to hear what others think before planning the first exhibition. 

“Obviously I have all kinds of ideas, but the first thing I plan to do is listen,” she said. “Exhibitions are a lot like theater in the sense you’re creating an environment with meaningful, interesting ideas, both visually and intellectually, and you don’t do it alone.” 

In Brazil, Miranda had a private practice as a psychotherapist, and when she came to San Jose in the early 1990s, she thought about getting certified but realized it would take about as long as the original training took. She started volunteering at the San Jose Museum of Art as a docent and worked her way up, becoming the director of education. She then had the same job at the Monterey Museum of Art and, more recently, was director of Pajaro Valley Arts and Santa Cruz Art League. She’s also a member of the City and County of Santa Cruz Arts Commission, representing District 3. 

When she first started working in the arts, Miranda says she felt at a disadvantage because she didn’t have a background in art history, so she took a variety of art history classes. Later, she realized that her background as a therapist was helpful in her new career. 

“What we’re really doing is managing relationships,” she said. “Something that’s important to me at work is how we develop, nurture and maintain relationships, so that we can all thrive in the work we do.”

After taking art history classes and working in museums and community arts organizations, Miranda felt she understood the arts side of things, such as curating, programming and audience development. The best thing she could do to be an effective arts leader, she decided, was to learn about the business side, so she went to the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco to get an MBA in Sustainable Management. 

“I'm always really driven to want to learn so that I can contribute to my field, and I felt that I needed to understand how to manage an organization from a financial perspective,” Miranda said. “I think one of the best things that I learned in my MBA was strategy. How do you think about the growth of an organization? I feel like I’m able to take a situation in front of me and think about how do I make changes? How do I leverage resources? How do I do it in the most sustainable way?”

Having grown up in Rio de Janeiro, Miranda says she was immersed in beach culture and the arts there, and when she moved to San Jose, she spent almost every weekend at the beach in Santa Cruz. She moved here in 2001, and she thinks with her experience and background, UC Santa Cruz is a wonderful place for her. 

“Professionally, it’s an incredible opportunity, and there are just not enough amazing things to say about the campus,” she said. “It feels to me like I’m working in the forest. Also, the university is so amazing in terms of research and the alumni and the things it’s doing and its commitment to sustainability. I feel very honored that I get to be part of this community.”