Lisette Sweetland will take the helm of the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance when the organization’s current executive director, Connie O’Connor, retires at the end of the year.

O’Connor has served as the alliance’s executive director since 2010.

Sweetland, 34, graduated from Sonora High School in 2001 and has been involved with the organization in various capacities since she was teenager.

“Connie is a whirlwind of energy and exuberance,” Sweetland said. “She’s made the alliance a prosperous place with the help of her team, and I hope that I can grow that.”

Sweetland said she began doing volunteer work for the alliance when she was 13. She also worked at Sierra Repertory Theatre in East Sonora in the costume department while in high school.

In 2007, Sweetland got a full-time job as the assistant box-office manager for SRT and was promoted to company manager in under a year.

“I’ve spent most of my life in the arts,” Sweetland said. “It has been my calling.”

Sweetland left her position at SRT for a job at the Center for a Non Violent Community in 2016 to have more time for raising her son, Wesley, now 3. Her husband and Wesley’s father, Matthew Sweetland, is the propmaster at SRT.

O’Connor specifically called Sweetland to offer her the position leading the alliance because the two have worked together for so many years.

The alliance was founded in 1970 as the Central Sierra Arts Council, predating the California Arts Council by six years. The name was changed in 2013 to align with the other 57 counties.

Sweetland, the group’s only full-time employee, will oversee a staff of three part-time employees, several independent contractors who regularly do work for the alliance, and more than 25 active volunteers.

About 145 members of the alliance pay annual dues ranging between $25 and $1,000 that partly comprises the organization’s annual budget of about $225,000, most of which pays for the roughly 18 programs administered by the group, including summer art camps, Poetry Out Loud and an annual photography show.

Other sources of funding the group receives come from state grants, private donations and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, which recently reduced the group’s annual funding from $45,000 to $35,000 due to financial constraints.

Sweetland said she plans to draw upon her experience to do more fundraising and host more events.

“I like to think that, not only do I have some art in my soul, but also some business in my brain,” Sweetland said.

O’Connor plans to introduce Sweetland as the new executive directors at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where the board is also scheduled to proclaim October as “Arts and Humanities Month” in the county.

“She was the person I really wanted to come into this role and put her stamp on it, if you will,” O’Connor said of Sweetland. “I am extremely excited because I think I’ve found exactly the right person to be a great fit and lead the organization into the future in a very positive way.”

O’Connor, who grew up in Carmel, said her parents had a summer home in Columbia and were founding members of the Mother Lode Arts Association in 1952.

In 1970, O’Connor moved to the county and spent the next 22 years working for the U.S. Forest Service as an assistant forest fire dispatcher in the Stanislaus National Forest. She became board president of the former Central Sierra Arts Council in 1998 prior to serving as executive director.

One of O’Connor’s biggest goals throughout the years has been to convert the historic Sonora Dome building into a cultural arts center. The group uses space there for a community radio station, as well as two other buildings on the campus for offices and a dance studio.

A committee put together by the Sonora Union High District Board of Trustees recently voted to sell the building that has fallen into disrepair. The building has been largely vacant for some time, though O’Connor said she will stay involved and hopefully see her vision come to fruition.

O’Connor thanked the many organizations and thousands of people who have supported the alliance during her tenure, as well as local friends and government leaders.

“We’ve tried to really use the money we’ve been given over the years in a judicious way that really includes everyone in the arts community,” O’Connor said. “That was always my overriding goal.”

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.