Judy Tafoya worked to introduce the world to artists who call Elk Grove home. She was a frequent sight at concerts, festivals and gallery shows where she greeted visitors and made new friends.

Elk Grove’s arts scene was showcased at several venues this March as part of ARTSbeat, a program that Tafoya helped organize. The Citizen honored her as the 2016 Artist of the Year.

Friends and colleagues were surprised to hear that Tafoya passed away on Dec. 5. Her cause of death was not announced, as of press time. Tafoya was 73.

“You don’t meet a lot of giving people in this world, but she was one,” said Nan Mahon, an Elk Grove arts commissioner who worked with Tafoya on several projects. “She was a major force in art in Elk Grove.”

Tafoya and her husband, Frank moved to south Sacramento in 1968. They dreamed of living in the country and bought a 10-acre lot near vineyards where they raised three children for 40 years. They later moved to Elk Grove where Tafoya became involved in the arts scene.

She was a classically trained pianist and she desired to see more concerts in Elk Grove. Tafoya went on to collaborate with Mahon in organizing the Jazz & Blues Vespers concert series at the Elk Grove Presbyterian Church.

“She brought a spotlight to art in Elk Grove that had never been there before,” Mahon said about her work with Tafoya.

Rev. Dexter McNamara of Elk Grove Presbyterian described Tafoya as someone who stayed active, despite her health issues. She received a kidney transplant from her son in 2011.

“What was important to her was to help the church and help the community,” McNamara said.

Tafoya was a longtime friend of Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease’s family. He said that he’s known her since birth.

Spease said that it was an easy decision for him and his wife, Angela to help Tafoya create The Arts Advocacy Project to promote Elk Grove art.

“Judy had such a love for the arts and Elk Grove, and she felt compelled to elevate Elk Grove arts for the benefit of the community,” Spease said.

Cheryl Griess of the Elk Grove Fine Arts Center praised Tafoya’s support for her staff’s work.

“She worked tirelessly in bringing the arts scene up to what it is today in Elk Grove,” she said. “She was an amazing, caring lady, and we will miss her dearly.”

Elk Grove painter Gerry Simpson described Tafoya as the type of woman that people could not say no to. 

"Whenever I would receive a call, text or email from Judy I just knew that I was about to say yes to her about something she was planning to do," he recalled. "She would call me and the first thing she'd say was 'Ger.'" 

Simpson said that he'll miss the sound of her voice "that was always with a smile." He added that Tafoya wanted a local arts scene that included everyone. 

Last month, Tafoya took home an Iris Award from the city of Elk Grove’s Arts Commission for her work as an arts patron.

She credited former Citizen lifestyle editor Raina LeGarreta for motivating her to launch the ARTSbeat program. LeGarreta wrote in her column about the need for Elk Grove artists to connect with each other and create events.  

“It shows you the power of a single word of encouragement,” Tafoya said.

LeGarreta told the Citizen that she felt inspired by Tafoya “taking a torch of inspiration and running with it beyond measure.” She mentioned that they had many conversations about “everything under the sun” when they discussed what Tafoya wanted to do in promoting Elk Grove art.

“Judy was always very passionate about making sure Elk Grove’s talent was shown –first here in town and secondly beyond the city,” LeGarreta said. “I hope that Elk Grove residents will be inspired by her story; remembering that a dream can come to fruition simply by being inspired by someone or something, and following that inspiration with action.”

Memorial services for Tafoya have not been announced, as of press time.