Sybil Davis: Pouring passion, problem-solving into the arts


Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

For some people, art is something they see in a museum, on a stage or at a gallery. But for Sybil Davis, art is everywhere.

"Art is such a broad term. You can take a walk in the woods and be astounded by the beauty that surrounds you and that's a form of art appreciation," said Davis. "Art is so crucial and critical to our lives, it enriches the fabric of our lives."

Driven by that philosophy, Davis, the executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, spends her days supporting and promoting the arts a habit formed at an early age.

"Art is in our blood. My father was a child actor that, along with his siblings, supported his mother by going on the road, and my mother is a painter,'' said Davis, a former dancer and educator.

Born in Panama, Davis and her family played the role of a military family while her father was employed as an accountant with the armed forces. After living in South America, Turkey, France and Germany, the family landed in Juneau, where Davis was forced to hang up her toe and tap shoes until she graduated from high school.

"I studied tap and ballet since I was a child, but when we moved to Juneau there wasn't a place to study dance, so I became a cheerleader," said Davis, who pursued her dance career in college. "I'm just a kinetic person."

With a degree in education from Arizona State University and a master's of fine arts from American University, Davis pursued a career as professional dancer and a teacher.

But in between teaching and dancing gigs in California, Davis always seemed to find her way back to Juneau. In 1975, she founded Juneau Dance Unlimited, where she worked as the administrator and taught modern and jazz dance classes for close to a decade.

"I really loved teaching dance, especially to young children. It was a lot of fun to teach dance, choreograph shows and bring guest artists in town,'' said Davis, who was one of the first trained dance instructors to offer classes in Juneau.

In 1979, Davis married painter Ken DeRoux. Shortly afterward, Davis and photographer Shar Fox opened The Red Balloon toy store.

"I loved the flexibility of being with my children as they grew up," said Davis, the mother of two daughters. "Plus, I love toys and we carried some beautiful toys from all over the world," said Davis.

After nine years in business, the women decided to close the toy store, and Davis returned to teaching. She and her family went north to Haines, where she taught eighth grade but, once again, Davis found her way back to Juneau, where she continued to teach dance and teach as a substitute in several schools.

In 1993, Davis began her career with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council as the administrative assistant to Natalee Rothaus, the former executive director. Four years later, Davis was chosen to fill her predecessor's position when Rothaus stepped down.

"Sybil was a really good choice for the position. She is totally passionate about the arts and has all this wonderful life experience to bring to the job. Plus, she's a tremendous organizer and a great problem-solver,'' said Susan Burke, a former board member of the arts council.

"The organizational part of running the arts council is monumental but she seems to approach this chaotic job with serenity and calmness," Burke said.

As executive director, Davis is responsible for coordinating, promoting and marketing most of the art events that take place in the capital city.

"I'm surprised that she can actually keep all the balls in the air," said Jenny Dawson, vice president of the arts agency's board of directors.

"What she's doing is rather admirable. It's not a high-paying job and Sybil is totally committed to the job," Dawson said. "She's up early in the morning to promote an event on the radio and often works nights at the various events."

In her three-year tenure as executive director, Davis has been instrumental in the creation of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Art Gallery, the Young Concert Artist Series, the Prose and Poetry Readings, and expanded Art Shop, an after-school arts program for children.

"We are so fortunate to have Sybil as an advocate for the arts," said Fox, Davis' former business partner and a photographer who has displayed her work in the arts council's gallery.

"She goes above and beyond the call of duty in everything she does and we're lucky to that she is so passionate about the arts. She brings a lot of life to the arts council,'' Fox added.

As for the future, Davis has high hopes for Alaska's capital city.

"The prettiest picture I can imagine is a world-class performing arts center with lots of outreach programs," said Davis from her office decorated with theatrical posters of past and future art events.

"Juneau is a very strong arts town and we've received big accolades for such a small town, but I don't think we are maximizing our potential," Davis said . "I think Juneau could be an international arts center."

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