Elyse Adler has an undergraduate degree in Music from Syracuse University, and a Masters in Information Science from Vanderbilt University. She has been working for Nashville Public Library since 1985. Over her career at NPL, she has worked in a variety of roles—from Music and Film Deptartment Manager, to Collection Development Manager, to Branch Administrator—and currently serves as Associate Director for Community Engagement. Her job offers an opportunity to be creative in diverse areas, including developing pre-school literacy initiatives, creating teen engagement programs, overseeing the performing artists/puppeteers and developing community partnerships in every area of the city.
Ekundayo Bandele is from Brooklyn, NY. He’s the author of six plays that include Judas Hands, If Scrooge was a Brother and an unpublished novel, Tales Go Round. In 2006, he founded and opened Hattiloo Theatre (named for his two daughters). He has directed several plays, including August Wilson’s Fences, The Bluest Eye (based on Toni Morrison’s novel), and Katori Hall’s Hurt Village. Some acting credits include King in King Hedley II, and Booth in Topdog/Underdog. As CEO from 2011-2013, he spearheaded a $4.3M capital campaign that resulted in the newly constructed Hattiloo Theatre in Overton Square that opened, debt-free, in June 2014. In 2015, Bandele led a second capital campaign that raised $750,000 for the construction of the Hattiloo Theatre Development Center scheduled to open in December 2016. Bandele serves on the boards of the Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. He has received awards from the Memphis Urban League, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, a Congressional Certificate of Honor, and many others. Memphis Business Quarterly has named him a Power Player every year since 2011.
Anna Baker-VanCura received her dance training from national icons such as: Joseph Schwartz at Dayton City Ballet; Robert Joffrey at School of American Ballet; and Frederick Franklin at National Ballet of Washington, D.C. As a performing artist for 26 years, she was privileged to work with such American dance legends as George Balanchine, Margot Fonteyn, David Howard, Melissa Hayden, Anna Marie Holmes, Maggie Black and others. She performed with National Ballet of Washington, D.C., Ruth Page International Ballet, American Ballet Theater and as a free-lance artist throughout the Midwest and Southeast. Baker-VanCura continued her dance development by attending the following: Russian Teacher Seminar in Tblisi, Georgia and Moscow, International Ballet Conference in Vail, CO and the National Dance Conference of Dance/USA in Chautauqua, NY. She worked as an artist with WolfTrap Institute and the Headstart Program in Chattanooga, TN, as well as a guest instructor for Dance Masters in Nashville, TN. Along with her husband, she received the Margaret Martin Award from Tennessee Association of Dance in recognition of Outstanding Service to Dance in Tennessee. Baker-VanCura is the Executive/Artistic Director of Ballet Tennessee which she founded jointly with late husband Barry VanCura in 1987.
Sarah Bandy received a B.A. in Art History from the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC in 2008 and then went on to found Girls Rock Charleston before moving to Nashville, TN in 2013. She started at YEAH! as Program Director in 2013 and has served as Executive Director since late 2015. She’s been organizing and volunteering at Girls Rock Camps around the country for the past seven years. Bandy is passionate about arming all youth with the tools to make the media that represents their experience. She believes that it’s important to educate teenagers about their power to eradicate systemic oppression through creative, collaborative expression.
Leslie Barker is the Director of Outreach and Education at Theatre Memphis. She received her B.A. from William Carey University and her M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Memphis. Through her job at Theatre Memphis, she has the privilege of working with incredible young artists all over Memphis, particularly in the Orange Mound community with the performance group, SPEAK. Barker has collaborated with many wonderful Memphis arts and community organizations, including the Grizzlies Team Up Mentoring Program, RedZone Ministries, Voices of the South, the Caritas Village, Chatterbox Audio Theater, Rhodes College and Blues City Cultural Center.
Rebecca Berrios is the Director of Community Engagement for the Metro Nashville Arts Commission (Metro Arts). With over 18 years of experience as an arts administrator, she has specialized in marketing, community relations and program management in the non-profit, higher education and government sectors. Berrios leads various initiatives to expand equity and support the arts in Nashville, including Metro Arts’ $1.9 million grants program; THRIVE, a neighborhood focused funding program that encourages professional development and community participation in the arts; Artober Nashville, a citywide celebration of arts and culture; and the Racial Equity and Arts Leadership (REAL) program.
Molly Blankenship is Co-founder of Reclaim Ourselves, a nonprofit community organization in Murfreesboro, Tennessee that is dedicated to utilizing art as a mechanism for advancing social change. She is currently a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, where she is pursuing a B.S. in Liberal Studies with concentrations in Political Science and Social Work/Advocacy. Blankenship also serves as President of The Lavinia Project, a creative writing program for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. She is passionate about the power of the arts to connect people, foster compassion and thus provide a foundation from which real change can be achieved.
Frank Bluestein is the 1996-1997 Disney National Performing Arts Teacher of the Year and the 1994 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. In October of 1998, USA Today named Bluestein as one of the top 40 teachers in the United States. He served for 37 years as Germantown High School Fine Arts Department chair and as executive producer for Germantown Community Television, a $3 million educational television facility located within the school. Bluestein currently serves as managing director of the Tennessee Arts Academy, a nationally recognized statewide teacher training institute. In September of 2013, he was inducted into the Educational Theatre Association’s Hall of Fame in Minneapolis.
Nicole Brandt is the Founder and Executive Director of Poverty and the Arts. She is an entrepreneur, animal-lover and social artist. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Belmont University in May 2014. She started the programs of Poverty and the Arts in fall of 2011 through an on-campus job at Belmont University. As a Junior in the spring 2013, she began the process to file for 501(c)3 status. Her senior year of college, Nicole interned at the Arts and Business Council and under the art therapist at Room in the Inn. Nicole has been working with the homeless since 2009.
Holly Briggs has spent 12 years teaching Art in the classroom, with the past 10 years as the Visual Arts teacher at Mooreland Heights Elementary School, in Knoxville, Tennessee. In her philosophy of teaching, Ms. Briggs emphasizes and highlights the importance of an integrated curriculum, combining art and the core curricular subjects. Connecting art to the world around us fosters a love of art in young learners and enables children to grow in creativity and critical thinking. In her own artwork, Ms. Briggs focuses on the dream-like boundaries between reality and the ephemeral. Landscapes, galaxies, flora and fauna appear in her artwork, reimagined and expanded to include new perceptions of the familiar. During the 2007-2008 school year, the Tennessee Arts Commission presented Ms. Briggs with the Master Teacher Award through the Value Plus Program. In 2010, Ms. Briggs was recognized by the Knoxville News Sentinel Reader’s Poll as East Tennessee’s Best Artist. Ms. Briggs was featured in a 2013 Metro Pulse article as “People You Should Know, Holly Briggs: Knoxville’s Artistic Educator.”
Allison Brazzel is an international artist and educator. She has performed her unique blend of blues, pop and folk music in North, Central and South America, as well as Asia, and she has been deeply influenced by the all of these places. She believes that the arts have the power to tear down walls and build bridges, and she fuses her spiritual foundation of hope into energetic and inspiring performances. She is currently teaching Spanish and Dance in Nashville, TN, as well as performing her show called, “The Voice of America: Life Stories Told Through The Power of Music.”
Matthew Brown, Ph.D. is a writer, activist, editor and educator whose work has been published by literary presses and journals across the United States. He has been a featured lecturer and performs readings in community arts forums and at academic conferences regularly. In 2009, he founded Writer Corps, a community literacy project that helps veterans develop their stories of service and share them with peers and the public at large. Each spring, Writer Corps produces a literary journal, DMZ, which is circulated widely in veterans groups, libraries and universities. Chapters of Writer Corps and related community literacy programs based on its original model are operating throughout America, as well as in the Middle East. He currently teaches writing and literature at Middle Tennessee State University.
Heather Casteel is the Visual Arts Specialist and Portfolio Coordinator for Knox County Schools, and she is the Division Lead for the revision of the Tennessee Visual Arts and Media Arts standards. She has been an art educator since obtaining her Masters of Science from the University of Tennessee in 2005. Casteel also has a BFA and is a practicing, exhibiting artist. Casteel is hoping to complete her PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at UT this Fall.
Cherri Coleman is a freelance curriculum writer and teacher of dance, theatre, storytelling and heritage arts. Graduates of her student-led performing arts programs have gone on to Broadway, international tours, careers in stagecraft and graphic arts, video, music and film. A native Tennessean, Cherri also keeps alive local traditions of storytelling, white oak and cane basketry, training the next generation of heritage art enthusiasts. Her current endeavor Celebrating Our Roots© partners with the National Storytelling Network and local historic sites to train high school and middle school students in leadership, community building and historic preservation.
Stephen Coleman is the president of the Tennessee Arts Academy Foundation. His career as an arts educator spanned four decades at both the secondary and university level. Most recently he was Associate Professor of Music at Cumberland University, and prior to that directed the instrumental music program in the Tullahoma school system. Coleman has served as president of many arts education associations, including the Tennessee Music Education Association and the Tennessee Bandmasters Association. He has presented sessions on arts education at state and national conferences and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for both TMEA and the Tennessee Bandmasters Association.
Nancy Cooley returned to school after nearly thirty years as an accomplished fine artist, freelance illustrator and clothing designer for country stars. While completing her B.F.A. at Middle Tennessee State University, she was introduced to book arts and letterpress printing. Since earning her degree in 2003, they have been her primary focus and have led to inclusion of her artist’s books in national exhibits, to her becoming a master printer in Tennessee Craft’s 2014 Master/Apprenticeship program and inclusion in the Frist’s Anthology show 2015/2016. Her newest books forms, Kinetic Text and Sculpted Haiku, explore the mechanics of movement.
Julie Dahlhauser is the librarian at Haywood High School in Brownsville, TN. She is also a fiber artist who knits, spins and dyes. A member of the Jackson Knitting Underground, she tries to persuade her friends that their garments will fit better if they will just do the math. She has participated in two yarnbombing installations in Memphis. She and her daughter have a booth of knitted hats at the Cooper-Young Festival, “Much Ado About Knitting.” She is on the Volunteer State Book Award Committee, is president of her local public library board and sings with the Memphis Masterworks Chorale.
Nick DeFord is an artist, educator, and arts administrator who resides in Knoxville, TN. He received his M.F.A. from Arizona State University, and a M.S. and B.F.A. from the University of Tennessee. He exhibits nationally, with recent exhibitions at the University of Mississippi, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Lindenwood University and Coastal Carolina University. He has had artwork or writing published in Surface Design Journal, Elephant Magazine, Hayden Ferry Review and Willow Springs.
Alice Faye Duncan is a Memphis librarian who writes books for young readers. Her picture books include Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, Christmas Soup and Honey Baby Sugar Child. In 2018, Boyd Mills Press will publish her new book, Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop. It is a history of the 1968 Sanitation Strike.
Olive Durant received her B.A. degree in Studio Art/ Education from Converse College for Women in Spartanburg, South Carolina and her M.A. degree in Studio Art/ Education from New York University in New York City. She received special training in magnet school curriculum and instruction as a full-time art educator and instructor in the Hamilton County School system in Chattanooga, TN. As “Roster Teaching Artist” with the Tennessee Arts Commission she works as a potter, print-maker and educator. As a volunteer potter, she coordinates “Empty Bowl” events in the Chattanooga area and works with her Southeast Chapter of Tennessee Craft in setting up exhibitions and demonstrations.
Bailey Earith is a mixed media fiber artist and teaching artist in Knoxville, TN. She offers artist-in-residencies to K-12 students through the STS grant. Using her Occupational Therapy skills, she specializes in teaching academics through art to children with disabilities. She has art work in collections around the world. She has been published extensively in magazines and books for her innovative work in the studio and as an artist-in-residence. She is proud to be a VSA and TN Arts Commission artist roster member and is associated with the Knoxville Arts and Culture Alliance.
Carly Egan is the music teacher at Mooreland Heights Elementary School in Knoxville, TN. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Carson-Newman College, master’s in music education from The University of Tennessee, and is currently finishing an EdS in curriculum and instruction from Lincoln Memorial University. Ms. Egan has performed in numerous musicals, and has directed three large-scale musicals while at MHES, Disney’s The Jungle Book, The Aristocats!, and Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. Her students are a constant source of inspiration to the next, latest and greatest arts integrated lesson. Outside of teaching, Ms. Egan is passionate about playing piano, performing, health/nutrition/cooking and most importantly, spending time with her husband and two sons.
Donald Fann currently serves as the Director of Theater at Stewarts Creek High School in Smyrna, TN. He previously served as Executive Director of The Arts Center of Cannon County for 19 years. During his tenure, the organization grew from a local community theatre into an award-winning regional rural Arts Center serving a worldwide audience of over 150,000 through its facility, web sites, publications and recording projects. In 2002, he founded Spring Fed Records, an independent non-profit record label that used field recordings and reissues to build a catalog of over 40 titles. Fann also worked to support both traditional and contemporary craft communities, and coordinated the creation of the Crafts Directory featuring over 150 local artists, as well as the Southern Visions Gallery, a retail crafts outlet located at The Arts Center.
Clare Fernandez joined Poverty and the Arts as a volunteer in May 2014. She contributed her skills to event facilitation; writing and editing; board and volunteer recruitment; and marketing and social media efforts. She now serves on the board of directors, focusing on grant writing and education outreach. Clare is an avid arts and arts integrated education advocate. A graduate of Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in Spanish and Theatre, Clare is a Data Analyst at Digital Reasoning. She enjoys reading, laughing, belting show tunes off-key, acting and is a founding member of a team that is creating a democratic school in Nashville.
Britiney Fife is an elementary school teacher at Mooreland Heights Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has been teaching for twelve years, and has helped organize and direct three musicals with the music teacher, Carly Egan. Britiney enjoys seeing the kids come to life on stage through creating dramatic characters and building confidence as the rehearsals progress. When not teaching, Britiney enjoys spending time with her husband and their three year-old son, Asher.
Brad Foust is the Instructional Facilitator at Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett, Tennessee, and he is an online instructor of music at Southern New Hampshire University. He holds degrees in music education and educational administration, and he is a degree candidate in the Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education program at Boston University. Mr. Foust has worked as a teacher and administrator for 20 years, and from 2009-2013, was the Project Director for the Shelby County Schools Arts Infusion Project, a U.S. Department of Education grant program. Mr. Foust resides in Olive Branch, Mississippi with his wife and two children.
Deborah Frazier is co-founder and Project Director of Blues City Cultural Center (BCCC), a 37 year-old arts organization which has as its mission: ARTS FOR A BETTER WAY OF LIFE. Deborah has been instrumental in developing programs for BCCC that address social issues using the arts. These programs include: Peace in the House, a violence prevention program for youth, Sew Much Love, an entrepreneurial program for homeless women, and This Is Orange Mound, a creative place-making project designed to connect elders and youth in Orange Mound.
Amanda Galbraith has enjoyed teaching elementary art for 15 years. She has also worked with secondary art programs during her time as the lead teacher for the district and has served as an adjunct instructor for the graduate program at Memphis College of Art. Galbraith serves as the director of the Arts Leadership, Administration and Assessment track at the Tennessee Arts Academy, is a member of the Tennessee Art Education Association and the TN Portfolio Steering Committee, has juried regional art shows, is the secretary of the Bartlett Arts Council, and has presented professional development sessions at local, state and national conferences.
Libby Dawson Galster has taught 5th grade and 1st grade at Mooreland Heights Elementary in Knoxville, TN over the past eight years. Previously, she worked in marketing research and then earned a Masters of Education from the University of Tennessee. Her strong interest in arts integration lead her to teach at Mooreland Heights, a Value Plus School. She is a LEAD Teacher and has served as an Arts360 mentor to other elementary schools in Knox County. Libby was certified as an Arts Integration Specialist in 2011. She continues to grow as an art integration teacher, and strives to continue to find new ways to bring creativity and incorporate technology into the classroom using the arts.
Carolyn German has been a creative professional for over 35 years, working as a producer, director, playwright, songwriter, performer, guest speaker and teaching artist. Her award-winning performance credits span from edgy Off-Broadway to over 25 projects with Tennessee Repertory Theater, and include Musical Theatre, Shakespeare, Improv comedy, cabaret performances and more. As a writer, Carolyn’s The Story-Builders, which she also directed and produced, was named Best Production 2003, by The Tennessean, and her commissioned play Burden of Justice:1863 was booked to tour area schools in both 2013 and 2014 through Tennessee Performing Arts Center Education. She is currently the Producing Artistic Director of Theater Craft, where she produces everything from shoe-string-budget readings to large-scale productions, facilitates numerous training and engagement opportunities and partners on special projects with industry-leaders like Tennessee Performing Arts Center and Quebec’s Le Teatre Tout a Trac.
Emily Green-Cain is the Curriculum Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life, an early literacy program at the Nashville Public Library. She researches and develops literature-based, interdisciplinary curriculum for the library’s unique puppet shows; and delivers teacher trainings, story times, family literacy celebrations and family workshops. She brings 36 years of classroom experience as a teaching artist in public schools, preschools and a wide variety of community-based organizations. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre from Virginia Polytechnic University, and an undergraduate degree in Theatre and Communications from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Ryan Gothrup has been producing one of a kind glass objects for eighteen years. Gothrup received his B.F.A. from Kent State University and received his M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University. He exhibits and sells his glass across the country. Gothrup Glass exemplifies a combination of Italian, Swedish, and German techniques with an American twist.
Annamaria Gundlach is a professional artist and teaching artist who loves creating art and sharing her passion of art! She is an outreach artist with the Knoxville Museum of Art, the sculpture instructor at the Knoxville Fine Arts and Crafts Center and has received numerous grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Annamaria believes everyone is creative. She develops engaging hands-on activities for learners of all ages and skill levels. Her art activities are also multi-sensory and designed to develop mastery of the medium while encouraging confidence, creativity and self-expression. She believes art helps students gain a deeper understanding of the physical world as all their senses are engaged when creating art. Thousands of students have experienced the joy of creating and learning with her. Annamaria lectures, gives workshops and exhibits her sculptures.
Dee Kimbrell has been a member of the Tennessee Art Commission’s Artist Roster since 2004. A story teller, visual artist and workshop facilitator for over 30 years, Dee uses recycled materials to bring the joy of play into the learning process. Dee is also a certified Processology Practitioner, which means she specializes in the process of thoughts and feelings, learning strategies and the fine points of learning in all age categories. Dee is the founder of Creative Genius In YOU, an educational consulting and professional development company for those who desire to bring more collaboration, creativity and play into the learning process.
Dana Harrell is in her 15th year of teaching chorus. She is currently the chorus teacher at West Jackson Middle School in Jefferson, GA. She also teaches private piano, voice and guitar. Dana has four children and three perfect grandchildren. Her undergraduate degree is in Music Education and Music Therapy from Ohio University. She also holds a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, Arts Integration, from Lesley University. Dana presented at the Create conference in 2014, teaches arts integration classes in her school system and spends the month of July teaching music theatre at the Boston Children’s Theatre.
Jennifer Harris is Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the Andrew Jackson Foundation. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Anthropology and has spent her entire 25 year career working in Development for various non-profit organizations. She enjoys spending time with her family, being active and considers the ocean her sanctuary. Harris lives in Nashville.
Jennifer Henderson is the K–8 Music Methods instructor at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, as well as a teacher of private piano and freshman class piano. She teaches piano and early childhood music classes for the Searcy Community School of Music. Henderson is an early childhood music specialist, with training from several recognized methodologies including Orff, Kodaly, Music Learning Theory (GIML.org), Kindermusik and Musikgarten. Currently working towards a doctorate in music education at the University of Memphis, Henderson is studying the historical and practical implications of “sound before sight before theory.”
Allison Isom is a elementary drama teacher at Bradley Academy in Murfreesboro, TN and has been the director of the Musical Theatre program at Bradley since 2008. She has extensively studied the art of theatre since 1996. Through her studies at Brigham Young University, and extended education at Hamline and University of Minnesota, she has gained the knowledge and experience of teaching all grade levels not only a great product but the process behind it. She has directed 14 musicals with 3rd-6th grade students in an after-school theatre program. Isom introduced student’s work into the community, including Habitat for Humanity, Middle Tennessee State University, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. Isom was the “Teacher of the Year” and has been recognized by the Tennessee Arts Commission for having a “High Quality Theatre Program” during and after school. She has won the prestigious Music Theatre Internationals, Freddie Gershon Teacher in Excellence Award, an award given to only 6 teachers a year.
Spencer Johnston is a 26-year old Murfreesboro native and has been a leading member of Writer Corps for four years. Several of his poems have appeared in the annual publication of Writer Corps titled DMZ. He is a Sergeant currently serving in his 9th year with the Tennessee Army National Guard stationed out of Dickson, Tennessee. He served overseas in Iraq in 2010 and 2011. Spencer is married, and he and his wife are expecting their first child, a baby boy in September.
Janel Long is currently teaching K-5 elementary general music in Memphis, TN and previously taught PK-6 elementary general music in Helena-West Helena, AR. She has completed training in the Music Learning Theory for both Elementary General Music and Instrumental Music and also training in Orff-Schulwerk. Long is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Memphis. Ms. Long’s research interests include emergent music literacy, assessment design and teacher preparation.
Kofi Mawuko, a native of Ghana, West Africa, began learning traditional rhythms on Ga, Ashanti and Ewe drums at the age of 10. He possesses a natural talent for singing, dancing and playing various musical instruments. Mawuko, as he prefers to be called, has traveled extensively throughout the world as lead dancer and master drummer with the Kyirem Cultural Troupe, a Ghanaian-based performing company that toured internationally in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In late 1980, he settled in London where he taught music and dance at local schools, composed songs and wrote plays for local theater groups. His musical compositions were selected for production in the Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival and the first African Emancipation Day celebration held in Accra, Ghana. Mawuko’s works have been publicized in numerous television and movie productions in Accra, Ghana and London, England.
Peggy Mathews is owner of Mathews Consulting, an organization management and fund development consulting practice. Peggy has over 40 years of experience working with community-based nonprofit organizations across the U.S., but primarily in rural communities of Appalachia and the Southeast. Over those years she worked as a marketer for a rural craft cooperative in east Kentucky, a community organizer and grassroots fundraiser for a coalfield citizens organization in east Tennessee, and was the founding executive director for Community Shares a statewide organization that raises money for Tennessee nonprofits through payroll deduction campaigns. For the past 19 years, Peggy has been an independent consultant and trainer for nonprofit organizations. Peggy was a founding board member of the Campbell Culture Coalition and served as its first vice-president. For the past 10 years, Peggy has served as co-chair of the Culture Coalition’s Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival and is the festival’s chief fundraiser.
Bill May is an educator, designer, craftsman, writer and the executive director of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. He is a graduate of Tulane University. In 1992, May established May Studios which designed, fabricated and installed custom art glass for architectural settings throughout the country. Today, in addition to his role at Arrowmont, May serves as a juror for exhibitions and lectures on art education and the creative process. In 2014 he led an $8 million fundraising effort to purchase Arrowmont’s historic campus and was recognized by Governor Bill Haslam with the 2015 Governor’s Award for Arts Leadership.
James McKissic is the Director of the City of Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs. His role for the City includes linking diverse businesses to City Government contracting opportunities, improving the City’s supplier diversity efforts, and working to promote inclusion and diversity among the employees and citizenry of Chattanooga. Since being appointed by Mayor Berke two years ago, McKissic has established the City’s Internship Program; set up a project to provide Citizenship assistance, free ESOL and GED classes to Chattanooga’s immigrant population; and managed a local hiring initiative for the demolition of the Harriet Tubman housing Development. He is a native of Cleveland, TN and has worked in the nonprofit and public sectors for more than 20 years. James holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a Master of Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner School at New York University and an executive certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Sarah McCormick received her B.A. in World Arts and Culture from UCLA and her M.F.A. from SUNY Brockport. She is Associate Professor of Dance Education in the Department of Visual and Theatre Arts at the University of Tennessee at Martin (2008-present). She is a proud member of TAD, NDEO, and TAHPERD. McCormick and her dance education students have taught and performed at various West Tennessee schools. Her dance works have been seen at various Universities, Festivals, and Conferences. She has presented dance workshops in Martin and Memphis, as well as her research at NDEO, CORD, National Women’s Studies Organization, Dyersburg Book Festival, and TAHPERD.
Alysa Medina works with Catholic Charities of East TN in the Office of Immigrant Services in Chattanooga as a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Accredited Representative. She is a founding member of Crossville Para una Accion Solidaria (CPAS), a local committee of TIRRC, whose purpose is to educate, advocate, create a space for dialogue about the benefits of diversity in our community and uplift the voices of immigrant leaders in the Cumberland County area. Medina graduated summa cum laude from Middle TN State University with a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Vocal Performance and studied on a Fulbright scholarship in the year 2000-2001, investigating the influence of the Moors on the Medieval music of Spain.
Luis Medina serves as the production coordinator of the Cumberland Hispanic Festival. Luis is a founding member of Crossville Para una Accion Solidaria (CPAS) and an advocate in the immigrant community. He has represented the Cumberland County immigrant community in various statewide initiatives at the state capital and in Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration reform. He is originally from Jalpa, Zacatecas, Mexico, but emigrated to the United States in 1992. He also volunteers with community groups such as the Obed Watershed, Knights of Columbus, St. Alphonsus Catholic Church and the Cumberland County Playhouse. He has been involved with the production and technical aspects of the festival since its inception in 2012. When not volunteering in the community, Luis is a self-employed stone mason (and general handyman) whose work includes foundations, patios, mailboxes and other creative projects such as indoor or outdoor fireplaces, outdoor grills and firepits.
Lakesha Moore is an Assistant Professor of Art Education at Tennessee State University. She earned her M.F.A. with a focus on painting from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a B.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis. She has completed graduate work for education at Lipscomb University and the University of the Virgin Islands. Her commitment to her faith and pursuit of culture study has given her many opportunities to study and travel abroad. Besides painting, her artistic practice is a melding of music, writing and community work. The theme that is central to her paintings is the potential for connection when personal histories are shared and embraced. This is fueled by a strong interest in the role that collective and personal memory have on one’s identity and psyche.
Laurie Melnik is the Executive Director of the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she cultivates partnerships to strengthen arts teaching and learning across diverse populations and interdisciplinary contexts. She has an M.F.A in Theatre for Young Audiences from the University of Central Florida, an M.P.A. in Nonprofit Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and is a 2013 Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute alum. She was one of sixteen nominees for the 2016 UT President’s Award, a top honor that recognizes excellence in the categories of educate, discover and connect.
Beth Anne Musiker is a lead teaching artist for TPAC Education, bringing aesthetic education to students and providing professional development in arts integration to educators throughout middle Tennessee. Her work with TPAC Ed inspired her to create StageSmart Teaching Artists. StageSmart is a member of The Broadway League and provides and delivers experiential engagement to touring Broadway shows. Currently, she is preparing a Program of Creative Adventures for the upcoming national tour of Finding Neverland. Beth Anne serves as a director, music director and more for a variety of theatre productions. She earned her theatre degree from Northwestern and began her career as a working actor and singer in New York City. She made her Nashville debut while touring the country in Roger Miller’s Big River, appearing with Mr. Miller, himself. She recently released her first single, a cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U, to Country Radio.
Dr. Shawn Pitts is the founder of Arts in McNairy and a passionate community arts advocate. He serves on the board of directors of Humanities Tennessee and in the Peer Advisor Network for Tennessee Arts Commission. Pitts has been active documenting, writing and speaking about the cultural heritage of his native West Tennessee for almost twenty years. He is the current president of the Tennessee Folklore Society and leading voice for the preservation of Tennessee’s traditional culture.
Isormari Pozo was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. At age five, her family moved to New Jersey. From then on she participated in both ESL and bilingual programs at school. These childhood experiences in school inspired her to become an ESL/Bilingual educator. She received a degree from the Interamerican University in Ponce, Puerto Rico. In May of 2011, she earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration/Supervision from Texas A&M University and has an administrative license in Texas. In Texas, Pozo worked at an International Baccalaureate Elementary School where she learned the value and effectiveness of integrated teaching and learning. As a second language learner, she fully understands the impact the arts have on language acquisition. She is committed to full arts integration that not only enables language acquisition but also infuses confidence, critical thinking and an understanding of the world around them. She has been teaching bilingual students for 15 years. Currently, Pozo is an ESL teacher at Bradley Academy where she helps the Theater Arts teacher with the schools musicals. When not busy at school, Pozo enjoys reading, painting, playing the violin, gardening and above all spending time with her family.
Jairo Prado, a native of Colombia, South America, has lived and worked as a visual artist in Nashville for 32 years, creating commissioned works and exhibiting nationally and internationally. His architectural mosaic Migration, featured on the façade of the Casa Azafrán Community Center, was selected for the 2014 Mosaic Arts International Exhibition hosted by the Society of American Mosaic Artists, and recently named a “Best of the Southeast” travel destination by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Prado has also been an educator to the community, frequently collaborating with universities, community organizations and arts institutes, including Watkins College of Art, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and Conexión Américas. His work with the community focuses on celebrating the history, culture and creative expression of those who inhabit the city.
Susan Prado is a native Nashvillian and practicing visual artist, writer, and designer. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design from MTSU in 2001, she practiced in the design profession for several years before shifting into the role of full-time visual artist, community instructor and project design coordinator. She has collaborated with partner, Jairo Prado, for the past 12 years, assisting his creative practice, establishing Prado Studio and coordinating multiple significant community outreach projects under his leadership, such as Migration, a 30’ x 12’ mosaic mural for the Casa Azafrán Community Center. Her personal and community-based work explores creative, cultural and spiritual identity, as well as visionary empowerment. Writing is another creative medium that allows her an outlet for expression. She takes great pleasure in the poetic craft of songwriting, in addition to writing about the value of creativity and the arts as a catalyst for personal and community transformation.
Dr. Cynthia J. Sadler, an anthropologist and historian, collaborates with non-profit and community-based organizations in utilizing human-centered, asset-based approaches that can lead to sustained value and growth. She believes organizations can transform the way they view themselves and how they are viewed by others through implementing innovative approaches that are informed by their constituencies. Dr. Sadler is well-versed in program design, project management and evaluation design. She also has extensive experience in proposal, grant and report writing. Her research generally focuses on the New South with an emphasis on the Mid-South and Mississippi Delta. Within that framework, she uses interdisciplinary approaches to examine the impact of race, class, gender and economics on cultural and geographical landscapes and public spaces. In addition to her work with numerous organizations, she also serves as Chief Engagement Consultant for the Memphis Heritage Trail project.
Sarah Sampson has lived in Nashville for eight years and serves as the Director of Communications for the Tennessee Disability Coalition. The Coalition is a statewide non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. Sarah is also currently enrolled at Vanderbilt University, earning her Masters in Business Administration through the Owen School of Management.
Elizabeth Sanford is a watercolor painter who was seduced by the book arts and now creates watercolor sculptures. Her work is in many collections including the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, John Hopkins University and Ringling College of Art and Design. She has been teaching art for more than twenty years and holds an M.F.A. in painting and drawing from East Carolina University. Her most recent project is a 6-foot cube for the Modular Art Pods Event at OZ Nashville, June 21-25.
Brandi Self earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education from Maryville College and her EA&S in Educational Administration from Lincoln Memorial University. She was an intermediate teacher with Knox County Schools for 12 years, earning several teaching excellence awards. During that time she also served as Value Plus Leader at Mooreland Heights Elementary and helped lead the arts integration program. Self became the Arts360 District Coordinator for the Knox County Schools district arts integration model. She has been involved in curriculum planning on the school, district and state level. She has also conducted several staff developments on curriculum development, effective teaching practices, common core, technology and arts integration. Self is currently the Principal at Mooreland Heights Elementary and continues to oversee the arts integration initiatives, Arts360 and Value Plus, for Knox County Schools.
Gary Sexton is a Social Studies teacher and the Director of the student-built and student–operated three-acre Museum of Scott County located on the campus of Scott County High School in Huntsville, Tennessee. He earned his Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Kentucky and his Masters of Education from Xavier University. Originally from Norwood, Ohio, Sexton has been teaching for 30 years, with the last at Scott High School. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, reading, writing poetry, teaching a high school/college class at his church, and spending time with his wife of thirty two years and five children on their family farm.
Laurie Schell is the director of Music Makes Us, the public/private music education initiative in Metro Nashville Public Schools, jointly supported by the Mayor’s office, music industry leaders and the school district. Previously, Ms. Schell was the executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide arts education policy and advocacy organization. Schell holds a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. in Liberal Studies/Dance from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and pursued further studies at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Linda Steele is an Amherst College Wade Fellow and a 2016 recipient of an Artworks grant from The National Endowment for the Arts for The Fellows Program at ArtsMemphis. She oversees all social change grantmaking and capacity-building initiatives at the organization. Steele launched the Fellows program to build the capacity of Memphis arts groups, artists, and community-based non-profits in the emerging field of arts-based social change and has presented across the country on her work. Steele came to Memphis from New York City where she was a Fellow with the Arts Leadership Institute at Columbia University. Her professional experience includes work at Urban Gateways: Center for Arts Education, The Art Institute of Chicago and Cool Culture, Inc. Steele’s career has focused on building diverse and inclusive audiences for theaters, museums and performing arts venues. She is a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University. Prior to ArtsMemphis, Steele worked as an arts consultant based in New York City where she helped to open the first arts-based private pre-school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She began her career in the arts at Playhouse Square Center and Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. She also has a background in youth development and K-12 education.
Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi. She teaches writing for social media and digital rhetoric in the English Department at the University of Tennessee. She also serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications and The Wardrobe.
Kiran Singh Sirah is President of the International Storytelling Center (ISC), an educational and cultural institution dedicated to enriching the lives of people around the world through storytelling. ISC organizes the world’s premiere storytelling event, the National Storytelling Festival, and supports applied storytelling initiatives across a wide variety of industries. Prior to his appointment at ISC, Sirah developed a number of award-winning peace-building programs in cultural centers across the UK. As an artist, folklorist, teacher and advocate for social justice, he has used the power of human creativity to establish dialogue. An advisory member to UNESCO and a Rotary Peace fellow, he has developed educational programs and publications, articles, talks and conference papers about interdisciplinary approaches to relationship building in communities and around the globe.
Celine Thackston is the Grants and Research Manager for the Nashville Symphony. Previously, she worked as a freelance grant writer and consultant, providing support to a portfolio of arts, education and human services organizations in Nashville, Los Angeles and New York. She has also served as Grants Manager for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. Celine holds a D.M.A. in Music Performance from the University of Oregon, with supporting studies in Arts Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management. She resides in Nashville, where she is Founder/Artistic Director of chatterbird, an alt-classical chamber music ensemble.
Niq Tognoni joined Studio NPL and Nashville public library after working for the innovative Digital Youth Network and the Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia learning lab for several years. Niq oversees all elements of the Studio NPL program including the recruitment, hiring and training of Studio mentors and teaching artists. Through his independent studies and research and his work with the Studio NPL team, he strives to bring new media literacy and relevancy to young people nation wide.
Dr. Jennifer Vannatta-Hall is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Education at Middle Tennessee State University, a position she has held since August 2010. She received a Bachelor of Music degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1998. She taught pre-K through eighth grade general music and directed choirs in Rutherford County for two years. She then served as middle school general music teacher for the next three years in Franklin Special School District, where she conducted choirs and led the musical theatre program for fifth through eighth graders. She also served as associate director of the Tennessee Choral Academy, conducting five choirs ranging in age from eight to eighteen. After teaching in the public schools for five years, Vannatta-Hall returned to MTSU and graduated with a Master of Arts in Music Education in 2004. She was hired as full-time faculty for the MTSU School of Music for the 2004-2005 school year, where she taught music methods courses and conducted the MTSU Women’s Chorale. She then completed her doctoral coursework in music education at the University of Illinois and graduated with a Doctor of Education degree in August 2010. Vannatta-Hall is certified through the master level of the Orff-Schulwerk approach to music education as well as the Smithsonian Institute’s World Music Pedagogy.
Rodney Van Valkenburg joined ArtsBuild in May 2001, after serving for more than 18 years with the Chattanooga Theatre Centre as Director of Programs and as Director of Education. Rodney holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Child Drama from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 1992, he was named Youth Theatre Director of the Year by the American Alliance for Theatre in Education and received the Distinguished Achievement Award by the Tennessee Theatre Association.
Caroline Vincent is the Director of Public Art for the Metro Nashville Arts Commission (Metro Arts) in Nashville, Tennessee. In this role she leads the city’s public art program, supervises multiple monumental and neighborhood-based public art projects and administers the Percent for Art Fund. Tracking alongside Nashville’s growth, the public art collection has grown exponentially and uniquely reflects the city’s diverse neighborhoods and culture. Recently, she was elected to serve on the national Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Advisory Council.
Deborah Walker is a dance teacher at Covington Integrated Arts Academy (CIAA) in Tipton County. She specializes in integrating dance with the core subjects such as language arts and math. From 2013-2016, CIAA has competed and won; and performed at the Memphis Grizzlies games. Ms. Walker is also a teaching artist for the Tennessee Arts Commission, and a certified dance instructor with a Master of Education, and Ed.S in Leadership. In 2011, She created Dine’ (Dancers Integrating New Energy). In 2015, Ms. Walker choreographed routines for the Daisy Theater on Beale Street and the Canon Center in Memphis.
Kory Wells is a poet, writer and teaching artist whose first career was in software development. After gaining national recognition for her niche blogging and social media outreach, Wells now shares technology strategies with arts and advocacy communities. Author of the poetry collection Heaven Was the Moon (March Street Press), she performs her poetry with old-time musician Kelsey Wells, her daughter and collaborator on the album Decent Pan of Cornbread. The native Tennessean is a two-time Rash Award for Poetry finalist whose work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. She also mentors students in the low-residency program MTSU Write.
Abby Whisenant, a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, received her B.F.A. in Photography at Watkins College of Art, Design and Film in 2008. Through her photographic studies, Whisenant found a path for art and social justice. She is currently the program coordinator for the Underground Art Studio at Oasis Center, a program she developed and launched in January 2013. Since then, she has worked with hundreds of young people experiencing homelessness, navigating the juvenile justice system or overcoming substance abuse. Whisenant also trains local artists on authentic community engagement through Metro Arts’ THRIVE micro-funding program.
Cindy Young has always had art in her life. In earlier days, Young could be found performing on stages at Rutgers University, Boston College, University of Connecticut, North Carolina A&T and the world renowned Cotton Club in New York City. Now, she empowers students to perform their own work on stages in the Nashville area and at Vanderbilt University where she is currently Assistant Director for Special Art initiatives for the Office of the Dean of Students. As the Artistic and Founding Director for Rhythm and Roots Performance Company, Young has an “open door” policy where all forms of art are explored and welcomed to help enhance the richness of the creative process to prepare the company’s productions. Her students learn to create performance works from their personal stories, which are brought out through the fundamentals of reflection and creative journaling, storytelling, narratives and poetry. What was once a blank page in a book becomes the backdrop for a collaborative product filled with authentic stories depicting the human condition, laced with original student voice and heart.