The Mills Station Building has lived many lives. Since 1911, it’s been a cannery, a gas station, a post office, a grocery store, and a dance hall, among other things. It’s undergone significant metamorphoses, but one constant is the building’s significance to the Rancho Cordova community.
“It’s really incredible,” said Cheryl Gleason, art director and curator of the Mills Station Arts & Culture Center (MACC), which currently occupies the building. “I really wish these walls could talk.”
Though the building’s walls are silent, they are quite literally blank canvases. Since 2018, local and international artists have displayed their work on the MACC’s walls. From exhibits exploring intricate 3D worlds constructed from tape to shows featuring wildfire photography from across the west coast, the MACC regularly features exhibits focused on local artists, culture, history, and social justice.
This month, the MACC celebrated its fifth birthday with a special exhibit titled “How Sweet It Is.” The exhibit showcased sugary-sweet artwork from local artists and also featured a new show called “CREOTIONS” by Utah-based artist Christopher Creek, who sculpts figures into the filling of double-stuffed Oreo cookies.
For Gleason, the five-year anniversary marks a significant milestone not just for the MACC but for herself.
When I got this job, it was right before Christmas and I felt like that was the best Christmas present that year in 2017. Thinking about the last five years, I’m looking back at the amazing accomplishments from where we started to what we have created here today and the immense trust and leeway I’ve had to be creative in establishing what’s going on here.”Cheryl Gleason, MACC art director and curator
“I can’t thank the Cordova Community Council, the Rancho Cordova City Council and retiring City Manager Cyrus Abhar enough for that opportunity,” she added.
Seeds of an artist
Gleason’s roots in the art world date back to her childhood. Growing up in Sandpoint, Idaho, she was passionate about drawing, often recreating found pictures on paper with pencil. She dreamed of being an artist, but after finishing high school, she decided to enroll in a 12-month architectural drafting course. But the work didn’t resonate with her.
“I ended up moving to California and I started going to community college,” said Gleason, who signed up for art classes while attending school. “I just fell back in love with that thing that was missing from my life for the longest time.”
After community college, Gleason earned a degree in fine art and a minor in art history from the University of California, Davis. But post-graduate life quickly pulled her back from her passion. While studying at UC Davis, Gleason was employed by Nugget Markets and following graduation, she quickly rose through the grocer’s ranks, eventually becoming the market’s director of training. Nearly 12 years passed and all the while, Gleason felt an itch, as if something was missing from her life.
“I learned a lot, but I didn’t paint much and there was always this slight frustration and sadness,” she said.
Eventually Gleason left her post at Nugget Markets for a job in Rancho Cordova. During that time, she noticed art submission calls from the city hall in Rancho Cordova.
“I had a little bit more time, so I started painting again,” she said. “And I started submitting to these shows and getting to know the artists and getting to know the Cordova Community Council.”
As Gleason built relationships in the Rancho Cordova community, the Cordova Community Council and the City Council were hard at work on a secretive project at the Mills Station Building, a project that would elevate the arts by transforming the building into a home for them.
A center for the arts
When the MACC was ready to launch, the Cordova Community Council tapped Gleason to run the center. Since then, Gleason has worked tirelessly to establish the MACC as the artistic hub for the Rancho Cordova community. She partners with local nonprofits in the area like Rise Up Theatre, Ri-Nu Imagination, the Soroptimists and more. Through the Rancho Cordova Arts 501c3 arts group, they raise money in their annual Micro-Masterpieces fundraiser to buy thousands of dollars of art supplies for the students and teachers in Rancho Cordvoa.
Underlying all the community engagement work is a passion for the arts and its indelible effects.
That’s why having the MACC, which is free, where anyone can come and see different exhibits and be inspired or have thought-provoking conversations, even if only in your own head, is very important. Culture is what defines a city.Cheryl Gleason, MACC art director and curator
With each exhibit, Gleason hopes to spark reflection and conversation. And her mind is always burgeoning with ideas for future shows. Inspiration strikes from anywhere and everywhere.
“I get ideas from the darndest places,” she said. “It can be a picture in a magazine, it could be a conversation that you and I have where you mention something. I mean, it’s just so random how the brain works.”
When asked about the MACC’s important to the community, Gleason said, “Art is more important today than it ever has been. It’s a reflection of our culture. It talks about our past, it talks about our present and it talks about our future.”
And for the MACC, the future looks bright.
Learn more about the event and the MACC at www.rcmacc.org
Mills Station Arts & Cultural Center
10191 Mills Station Rd. Phone: (916) 273-5712
Mills Station Arts & Cultural Center10191 Mills Station Rd.
Rancho Cordova, California 95670