SPARTA, NJ – Mary Jo Mathias, Executive Director of the Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council, received the President’s Award at the council’s biggest fundraiser of the year, “An Evening with the Stars,” at the Lake Mohawk Golf Club.

The council’s board of trustees picks the winner each year from those who contribute to the arts in the county, Chriss Murphy of the SCA&HC staff explained.

Mathias is retiring at the end of January after 20 years with the council. She started as a member of the regrant committee which decides recipients of money filtered through the SCA&HC from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. When she became chair of the regrant committee, she was automatically a member of the board. She then became president of the board and, in 2005, was named executive director.

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Mathias said she is leaving the council in good shape. “We have young people, new blood. A full board.”

With six new members, the board is up to 17 members, including someone well-versed in marketing, an attorney, and Freeholder Richard Vohden.

The board is still seeking her replacement.

In addition to the new board members, six new regrantees are coming in this year. Mathias is proud of the council’s mission to give arts grants to non-art groups doing art projects. Council literature indicates 15 regrantees.

One of these grants went to Project Self-Sufficiency. Deborah Berry-Toon of PSS, explained her group retained a photographer to shoot photos of people helped by PSS. The photos, which were then processed by another county artist, are displayed at the PSS complex in Newton.

“When we built the campus, we wanted to tie the buildings together with photographs,” Berry-Toon said. “We exceeded our expectations.”

She said the photos are of a wide range of people who used PSS services, from 20-something's to 70-plus. “The photos offer inspiration, promise and hope. Each enlargement contains a quote explaining the person’s journey."

In addition to PSS, arts grants have gone to other groups, such as the Karen Ann Quinlan Center of Hope, Mathias said.

The council also channels grants from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, which are often matching grants, she said.

They are looking for a marketing and tourism grant, she said, and are planning to do history grants again. The council has a gallery in Newton with monthly shows. The group also sponsors the Sussex County 2012 Heritage Tour, Murphy said.

Mathias pointed out the Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council is one of only three in the state not part of county government. The SCA&HC must earn all its own money. The other two are Morris and Monmouth counties.

The Evening with the Stars is the largest fundraiser every year, Murphy said. The evening included cocktails, dinner, a silent auction and 50/50, a performance by “Harmony in Motion,” a women’s a capella group, and a display of PSS’s Portraits of Hope.

Silent auction items included a “Night on the Town” in Newton, a bronze dessert set, Vera Bradley bag and a number of photos and lithographs.

Mathias said she still has plenty of volunteer opportunities. She volunteers for Newton Medical Center and PSS and serves on the Tourism Commission of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce. She is a retired music teacher and concert pianist, and still gives private lessons.