Changing times are obvious throughout Mobile’s arts scene but maybe they’re most apparent at Mobile Arts Council (MAC). How?

As The Clash sang, “Charlie don’t surf.” But Hillary does.

“I started surfing when I moved here,” Interim Executive Director Hillary Anaya said. “My boyfriend is a big surfer and he’s the one who taught me.”

Anaya’s aquatic hobby is just part of a new era that began when former executive director Bob Burnett unceremoniously stepped down in January. His departure after a dozen years left the umbrella arts organization with a staff of two, Associate Director Charlie Smoke and then-Director of Operations Anaya.

“Charlie naturally would have been the first offer, for good reason, but he’s moving to Pensacola so he wouldn’t be available. I guess I was the last one left,” Anaya laughed.

(Photo/ Devin Ford/Mobile Arts Council) Hillary Anaya

(Photo/ Devin Ford/Mobile Arts Council) Hillary Anaya


Smoke, in fact, has taken a part-time job as executive director of Pensacola’s Choral Society. He will continue to help out at MAC on a part-time basis for a short while.

After then, it’s all in Anaya’s lap. She’ll likely receive some help from MAC Board President Bunky Ralph, as the only other staffer right now is new Program Coordinator Lucy Gafford.

“It was a little bit of a shock because this is my first job out of college. I’m a little nervous,” Anaya said.

It wouldn’t be the first big move for the 30-year-old West Coast native. Born in San Diego, she grew up under the care of her grandparents in Port Orchard, Washington, just across Puget Sound from Seattle.

“My grandparents moved to Foley, Alabama, after I graduated high school,” Anaya said. “I stayed up there and went to a community college in Bremerton and then went to Central Washington University after that.”

Life at Central Washington wasn’t exactly what she thought. It was on the eastern side of the Cascades and a far cry from the Puget Sound area.

“I missed my family and I decided to go on an adventure and move to the South,” Anaya said. “I first moved to Foley but when I moved, not all my credits transferred so I went to Faulkner for a semester, then I enrolled at [the University of South Alabama].”

She carried her music business major with her from the Pacific Northwest but was in for a shock at South Alabama. Their requisites were bit different.

“When I transferred to South, they really want you to understand the art, even if you’re a business major,” Anaya said. “The way they explained it to me was ‘how are you going to represent musicians if you don’t know what it takes?’ It totally made sense.”

Though she had always sung, Anaya had never perfected the finer points of performance. The instruction she lacked became obvious.  

“I totally failed my barrier [a vocal exam] twice. I wasn’t breathing properly because I’d never been held accountable for that,” Anaya said. “They took me under their wing for a summer in what I call vocal boot camp and got me singing properly.”

Though she would have never undertaken the regimen on her own, Anaya now sees the wisdom. Her depth of understanding increased.

“It was a complete wake-up call because I never had to be a really great performer before. I’m so grateful they failed me,” Anaya said.

The last semester of her collegiate education in 2010 consisted of nothing more than an internship. After telling an advisor her goals were to boost the arts community, he made a call and lined up a slot at MAC.

She was an intern for some five months when the previous administrative assistant departed. Anaya asked if she could have a go at the job, and was accepted.  

“I was part-time administrative assistant the first year, then they moved me to full-time by merging two part-time jobs into one,” Anaya said. That lasted a year before her job title was changed to reflect growing duties.

“I’m young but I do know the agency from top to bottom since I’ve done every single thing in this place,” Anaya said of her new post.

It can’t be any more of a shock than her acclimation to surfing, though. She overcame a longtime obstacle to chase the sport.

“I used to be petrified of the water. I knew how to swim, it just scared me and this was a way to get over it,” Anaya said. “My boyfriend pushed me onto a surfboard once — I think we almost broke up over it — but once he pushed me on a wave, I wanted to learn.”  

Regardless of how long the wave of leadership carries her at the MAC helm, she is willing to go with whatever new course the MAC board decides. Her course is uncharted.

“For all I know, three or four months from now I may still be the interim and if I’m not, that’s fine. Right now we’re still in transition and it would be unfair to hire somebody when we’re still trying to figure out what direction we need to go for the community,” Anaya said.