Hidden Gem

Arts hub hides in plain sight in Rancho Cordova

By Jessica Laskey
April 2024

The Mills Station Arts & Culture Center is a hidden gem in Rancho Cordova. Cheryl Gleason is determined to change that.

As the center’s art director and curator since 2018, Gleason plans everything that happens at Mills Station. It’s also her job to make sure people see the exhibits, workshops, history displays, cultural demonstrations and more at the center each month.

“I understand that art is more than something to go in and look at—it’s what makes a community culturally and economically viable,” says Gleason, an Idaho native. “I wanted to make the MACC a place that would take away the old stereotypes of Rancho Cordova and put it on the cultural map of the area.”

Gleason started big—her third show was an exhibition of David Hockney—but quickly discovered that no matter how cool the offerings were, people didn’t know Mills Station existed. Gleason put on her marketing hat and got to work.

She invited schools for field trips. She identified Friday as the slowest days and started hosting Friday night concerts of “culturally relevant” music. She scheduled poetry nights, local author days, lectures, art workshops on Saturdays, screenings of documentary films and plenty of historical exhibitions.

Mills Station was the only venue in California that rented “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II,” an exhibit from the Smithsonian that toured the country.

Gleason’s talent for educating the public and identifying excellent art was honed over decades. She studied architectural drafting in Arizona—“Mostly to get my mom off my back about going to college,” she says—then moved to San Francisco in 1986 and fell in love with education through community college art and art history classes. (She also fell in love with her wife of 35 years.)

She transferred to UC Davis to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine art and a minor in art history. This is where she came into contact with mediums that have become her signature: oil and cold wax. She works in encaustic (hot wax), acrylic, collage and mixed media “upcycled” work that gives discarded wood new life.

After graduation, Gleason embarked on a career at Nugget Markets, where she worked her way up to director of training and education. That led to a job at Heald College running the learning resource center and a master’s degree in education from Cal State East Bay in online teaching and learning.

When the Heald job ended, a connection at Rancho Cordova City Council was the bridge to Gleason’s next move.
She displayed her work at city hall through the nonprofit Cordova Community Council, which partnered with the city of Rancho Cordova, Regional Transit and Sacramento County to create the Mills Station arts center. Upon the center’s completion, the council turned to Gleason to run the gallery.

“The city gave me this wonderful, beautiful building that’s historically significant as a blank canvas and just said, ‘OK, go!’” she says. “If you don’t give me parameters or a box to stay in, I will exploit the hell out of it.”

When the pandemic hit, Gleason set up a desk at Mills Station as a way to keep herself focused. (“My studio’s at home and it calls to me like ice cream in the freezer,” she says.) Spending so much time immersed in the space made her creative juices flow. She expanded the exhibition spaces, educational workshops for artists as entrepreneurs and cultural offerings.

“I’m looking for different ways to bring different types of art to the community,” Gleason says. “After all, it’s their tax dollars that pay for it.”

For information, visit rcmacc.org and gleasongallery.com.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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