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Get to Know Us

RAAC Team at the awards ceremony

Our Work

The Rockford Area Arts Council was established in 1969 as a four-county umbrella arts organization. The Arts Council provides Winnebago, Boone, Ogle, and DeKalb Counties with organizational resources, collective advocacy efforts, and critical arts and cultural resources for our communities, with a special focus on our disadvantaged and underserved populations. The Arts Council exists to support, promote, and develop access to the arts for everyone. We achieve this goal by funding artists and arts organizations that oversee programs for under-served communities; supporting arts education and programming; developing collaborative relationships with the City of Rockford, the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Transform Rockford, R1 Regional Planning Council, the Rockford Park District and Rockford Public Library, regional school districts—both public and private; overseeing events that showcase local talent; and advocating for the arts at the local, state, and federal level.

We Believe


Every person in our community deserves equal access to a rich and vibrant creative life.


can be strengthened and transformed by working collaboratively and creatively.


of all artists and affirm that artists deserve to be fairly compensated for their contribution to our thriving community.


civic engagement, stimulate the economy, and increase cultural empathy and respect.


preserve, and advance our shared histories and cultures.

Our Staff

Mary McNamara Bernsten

Mary McNamara Bernsten, Executive Director

Mary is an enthusiastic Rockfordian with more than two decades of experience teaching, creating, and promoting the arts in our community and beyond. Mary’s passion and commitment to community connection, public service, and justice in all forms make her a powerful advocate for the Arts Council’s mission: to support, promote, and develop access to the arts for everyone.

Kayla Acton, Program Director

Kayla is a proud Rockford local! She has traveled the country and the world working in the arts for the past 10 years and is excited to bring her experiences to the Arts Council. Kayla brings enthusiasm for the arts and a passion for bringing people together and looks forward to partnering with local community members and organizations to develop arts programming in our region.

Toby Wachlin

Toby Wachlin, office manager

Toby was born and raised in the Rockford area! Toby brings extensive customer service, process and operations management, and quality improvement experience to his role.

Christina Valdez, Operations Officer

Christina is the Arts Council’s newest staff member. Christina is a proud Rockfordian! She brings a wealth of financial and operational experience to her role as well as a huge network and experience operating in the Rockford area.


Arts Council Board Members contribute their time, talent, and treasure to enrich and expand access to the arts in the Rockford Region through their personal and professional networks.

Purple Bars
  • Armando Cardenas
  • Rebecca Francis – Treasurer
  • Dave Gomel
  • John Groh
  • Bryn Jakeway 
  • Yash Musabji
  • Vic Rivera
  • Bill Rose
  • Melissa Santillan
  • Thomas Weightman – Chair
  • Lynn Williams – Vice Chair
  • Janelle Vaiden – Secretary

Accountability and Tran$parency.

The Arts Council embraces the values of accountability and transparency as a matter of ethical leadership, as well as legal compliance. Nonprofits are required to disclose certain financial information to the public upon request, and board members must have access to financial information to fulfill their fiduciary duty to the nonprofit.

Financial transparency helps preserve the important trust community members and donors place in the Arts Council. Additionally, and no less importantly, conduct that is accountable and transparent earns employees’ trust and creates a positive workplace culture.