Omari Rush has engaged the arts as both a passion and a profession, and in each mode, he continues to enjoy discovery and deepening impacts. As executive director of CultureSource in Detroit and as the governor-appointed chairman of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, he advances efforts to have creative and cultural expression thrive in diverse communities. Complementing that work, Rush is a board member of Arts Midwest in Minneapolis, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington, D.C., and the Lewis Prize for Music. Rush earned degrees in music from Florida State University and the University of Michigan, and extended his love for learning by managing the K-12 education program of the University Musical Society (UMS), by serving on the John F. Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education National Advisory Committee, and by serving as the chairman of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation. A lapsed clarinetist, Rush now uses his voice to cohost an arts-focused radio show on WEMU-FM and recite Robert Frost poetry.
Jamie Bennett is the executive director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year fund that supports artists working as allies in equitable community development. ArtPlace has invested more than $100 million to support projects in rural, suburban, tribal and urban communities of all sizes across the United States, as well as in sharing knowledge from that work in ways that are both useful and actually used by practitioners. ArtPlace convenes and connects people who are committed to this work to help build a strong and ongoing field of practice. Previously, Bennett was chief of staff and director of public affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he worked on the national rollouts of the Our Town grant program and of partnerships with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. Before the Arts Endowment, Bennett was chief of staff at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, where he worked on partnerships with the NYC Departments for the Aging, of Education, and of Youth and Community Development. Bennett has also provided strategic counsel at the Agnes Gund Foundation, served as chief of staff to the president of Columbia University, and worked in fundraising at The Museum of Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic and Columbia College. He currently lives, works, worships and plays in Brooklyn, New York, and has been sober since 2009.
Partner, Chief Strategy Officer
Diane Jean-Mary is a global strategy consultant with expertise in organizational change and transformation for the field of arts and entertainment. As partner and chief strategy officer at LaPlaca Cohen, Jean-Mary oversees a dynamic range of projects, nationally and internationally, on cultural entrepreneurship, mission and purpose development, brand strategy, strategic visioning, and audience development across nonprofit and corporate creative institutions. She also leads the firm’s ongoing Culture Track study, an insights and innovation platform dedicated to addressing the most pressing challenges in the cultural sector. Jean-Mary brings with her a multifaceted background in management consulting, consumer insights, behavior change and corporate innovation. Prior to joining LaPlaca Cohen, Jean-Mary served as associate director of consumer analytics and partnership development at Sony Music Entertainment and as a senior consultant in the finance and economic development practice at Booz Allen Hamilton. Jean-Mary pursued an interdisciplinary education, operating at the intersection of business, storytelling and socioeconomic justice. She earned a B.A. in Hispanic studies-economics from Columbia University, with a concentration in film studies. She also holds professional certifications in international business from Georgetown University and narrative filmmaking from the FAMU Film School of Prague.
Program Director for the Arts
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Maurine Knighton is the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). In that capacity, she is responsible for developing and overseeing grant-making programs that support artists and organizations in the contemporary dance, theater, jazz and presenting fields. Prior to DDCF, Knighton was the senior vice president for grant making at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. She also served as senior vice president for program and nonprofit investment at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. In the field of arts and culture, she was executive producer and president of 651 ARTS, program manager at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and managing director of Penumbra Theatre Company. She is a former board member of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), where she chaired GIA’s Racial Equity Committee. Knighton has also served as panelist and advisor to the National Endowment for the Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, Arts Presenters Ensemble Theater Program, South Carolina Arts Commission and others. She currently serves on the board of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, chairing its Cultural Investment Fund Committee.
Senior Director of Research
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Ryan Stubbs directs the research team at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) to provide high-quality information for the benefit of state arts agencies and the arts and culture field. His areas of expertise include public funding for the arts, state policy and the creative economy as well as state arts agency funding, services, operations and grant making. He oversees a research portfolio that includes dynamic data visualization tools, field surveys and research customized to the needs of state arts agencies. Stubbs also represents state arts agencies and NASAA at state, regional and NASAA research forums and serves as NASAA’s primary research liaison to federal agencies, foundations, consultants and scholars conducting research on public support for the arts. Stubbs has more than 10 years of professional experience in the field of arts research. Prior to joining NASAA, he served as the director of research for the Western States Arts Federation, where he specialized in analyzing state and local creative economy data, implemented web based research technology and launched an initiative aimed at supporting independent music. Stubbs has experience in state government as a capital construction analyst for the Colorado Department of Higher Education and in economic development as a business manager for Adams County, Colorado. He holds master’s degrees in public administration and urban and regional planning with an emphasis in economic development planning from the University of Colorado, Denver.
Victoria Panella Bourns
Utah Division of Arts & Museums
Victoria Panella Bourns has been director of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums since 2017. Previously, Panella Bourns directed the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks (ZAP) program, which distributes approximately $14 million annually to more than 170 arts and cultural organizations. Panella Bourns has worked for some of Utah’s premier organizations, including Repertory Dance Theater, KUER and Salt Lake Acting Company. She served as treasurer for the Performing Arts Coalition during the planning and implementation of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. An active supporter of the arts, she helped transform the Utah Citizens for the Arts into the Utah Cultural Alliance. She is a board member of the Western States Arts Federation, and served as treasurer for the State Arts Advocacy League of America, playing an important role in its transition into the Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network. Panella Bourns holds a bachelor’s degree in dance and a master’s degree in arts administration, both from the University of Utah.
Minnesota State Arts Board
Sue Gens has served as the Minnesota State Arts Board’s executive director since 2009, having previously served as the agency’s interim executive director and director of communication and government relations. Before joining the Arts Board, Gens was director of external relations for the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities). Previously, she served as director of development for United Arts, a federated fundraising organization for small and midsized arts organizations in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. Gens has worked in the Twin Cities nonprofit and public sectors for more than 30 years, holding management, public relations, marketing or development positions at the Children’s Theatre Company, Minnesota Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, COMPAS and the Women’s Theatre Project. She has served as a board member of a number of Minnesota nonprofits including the Minnesota State University Moorhead Alumni Foundation, Airport Foundation MSP and Minnesota Environmental Fund. She has been a presenter for Grantmakers in the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Illinois Governor’s Tourism Conference, Metropolitan State University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota Arts and Cultural Leadership program. Gens is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, with degrees in music and arts administration.
Michael W. Ibrahim
Portfolio Organizations and CIP Advisory Services & Capacity Building Initiatives
Massachusetts Cultural Council
Michael W. Ibrahim is program manager for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Investment Portfolio, a $6.1 million grant program that supports 400 nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and science organizations across the commonwealth with general operating and project based grants. In addition to grant making, Ibrahim is responsible for the council’s advisory services for cultural organizations. This work includes providing direct consulting services, as well as managing sectorwide education services, group advising, financial health inventorying, capacity building and mapping, research, and cohort development to help organizations build sustainable, adaptive and innovative models of operation. In 2018, he launched the Capacity Accelerator Network, an adaptive cohort of organizations facing significant financial resiliency challenges. In 2020, Ibrahim led the Safe Harbors Program, a package of services to help organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has designed arts management curricula for several universities and is currently on the graduate arts administration faculties at both Boston University and the University of Kentucky. Ibrahim was previously a faculty member at Emerson College and director of development at All Newton Music School, and held management positions at Barrington Stage Company, Greater Boston Stage Company and the Lexington Philharmonic.
Lori Lobenstine is the program design lead and cofounder of the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI). At DS4SI she has helped design and lead such interventions as Public Kitchen and Social Emergency Response Center, as well as engaging the public through creativity labs and creative placemaking partnerships. Lobenstine’s consulting practice includes national facilitation work around diversity, equity and design in the fields of public health, education and urban planning. Her writings include “Spatial Justice: A Frame for Reclaiming our Rights to Be, Thrive, Express and Connect” (available at http://ds4si.org) and DS4SI’s new book “Ideas—Arrangements—Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice” (Minor Compositions, 2020).
The Village of Arts and Humanities
Aviva Kapust is a designer, educator and advocate for equitable revitalization in underserved urban communities. Her work leverages community access to design in order to create spaces of racial, social and cultural equity. As executive director at The Village of Arts and Humanities, Kapust founded seven arts based community development initiatives that address socioeconomic challenges facing more than 1,500 youth and families in North Central Philadelphia—most notably the SPACES Artist-in-Residence Program and Village Industries Youth Program. She is a frequent panelist and speaker at local and national engagements focused on equitable creative placemaking and arts based community economic development strategies, and provides coaching for artists, arts organizations, and CDCs who wish to deepen their community-engaged practices. Under Kapust’s leadership, The Village more than tripled its annual revenue while also receiving prestigious awards including the Councilman David Cohen Award for excellence at the intersection of arts, culture and economic justice; the Philadelphia Associations of Community Development Corporations’ Blue Ribbon Award; two ArtPlace America Grants; and the 2018 Citizens Bank’s Champions in Action Award. Previously, Kapust honed her creative problem-solving skills as an art director and creative director at top advertising agencies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and as an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. Kapust has been with The Village since 2010, and has served as executive director since 2013.
Kelly J. Barsdate
Chief Program and Planning Officer
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Kelly Barsdate joined NASAA in 1991. She is the chief architect of NASAA’s strategic plan and oversees NASAA’s member service portfolio, including research activities, member education programs, communications, state technical assistance and special initiatives. Barsdate leads NASAA’s State Arts Agency Boot Camps, an intensive leadership development program designed for state arts agency executives. She draws on deep knowledge about the state arts agency field to advise and train state arts agency staff, council members and constituents on public value fundamentals, effective advocacy, strategic planning, program design and evaluation practices. She has managed collaborations with the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Grantmakers in the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and other policy partners. Barsdate has authored numerous monographs on arts policy, including NASAA’s Practical Advocate series, Why Should Government Support the Arts?, A State Arts Agency Performance Measurement Toolkit and A State Arts Agency Strategic Planning Toolkit. She is the editor of NASAA’s Policy Briefs and is a contributing editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society. She holds an Executive Certificate of Facilitation from Georgetown University, a Change Leader certification from the state of Utah, and a degree in English from Oberlin College. Prior to joining NASAA, Barsdate was a researcher at Educational Research Services Inc., where she focused on school demographics, multicultural education and program evaluation. Her arts background includes studies in clarinet performance, arts education and orchestral conducting at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as well as community based training in dance and ceramics. Born and raised in Alaska, Barsdate is a keen birdwatcher and avid amateur naturalist.
Race and Equity Manager
California Arts Council
Katherin Canton (they/them/theirs), based in Huichin (occupied Chochenyo Ohlone land – Oakland), is a GuateMayan weaver, healer, cultural organizer and facilitator raised on Yelamu (occupied Ramaytush Ohlone land – San Francisco) and Huichin. Benefiting from California’s commitment to community arts education after being a youth leader with Bay area arts groups, they cofounded the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, codirected Emerging Arts Professionals SF Bay Area, co-cordinated the Keeping Space Oakland Cultural Ambassador Program of the Community Arts Stabilization Trust, served as an organizer with Arts for a Better Bay Area, became administrative director at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and the first Western regional organizer of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and was the cultural equity policy director of Peacock Rebellion and the founding program manager of Oakland’s Just City Cultural Fund. As the California Arts Council’s race and equity manager, they continue a lifelong journey of learning how to be in right relationship with themselves, neighbors, the land and ancestors, particularly to queer and trans Black, Indigenous communities of color.
Ayanna Lalia Kiburi
California Arts Council
Ayanna Lalia Kiburi serves as the deputy director for the California Arts Council. Pronouns are she/her. Ayanna serves as the primary advisor to the council and director and oversees the agency’s programs and administrative operations and achievement of sections of the strategic plan. Kiburi has more than 15 years of service with the state of California, including her roles as branch chief at the Office of AIDS and manager of Breast Cancer Early Detection Programs in the California Department of Public Health. She holds a master’s degree in public health from San Jose State University and two bachelor’s degrees in sociology and African-American Studies from UC Davis. Kiburi is a creative and has been a lifelong artist and supporter of the arts, performing in theater and dance troupes from a young age. She is a member of Authentic Voices, a Sacramento based reader’s theater designed to stimulate authentic dialogue on inherent equality through personal life experiences and societal perceptions. Kiburi believes that access to and expression of arts is a social determinant of healthy individuals and communities, and ensuring that is a huge passion of hers.
New England Foundation for the Arts
Jane Preston is deputy director for programs at New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), contributing to the organization’s strategic direction and managing the program portfolio. She provides leadership in design and delivery of NEFA grants and services, supporting artists, presenting and touring, the New England creative economy, public art, the National Dance Project, National Theater Project and international exchange. Externally, Preston builds relationships with NEFA’s constituents and its organizational and funding partners. Jane has more than 30 years of professional experience working with cultural and philanthropic organizations and public agencies on strategic planning, organizational development, financial management, and grants program design and evaluation. She has held leadership roles with the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, the Goodman Theatre, the American Conservatory Theatre and New England Conservatory. Preston holds a B.A. in economics from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.
Maryland State Arts Council
Ken Skrzesz has served as the executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council since 2017, emphasizing procedural equity as the path toward quality arts experiences for all Maryland residents. From 2014-2017, Skrzesz was the coordinator of fine arts for the Maryland State Department of Education, where he shared his vision of creativity and collaboration as the driving forces of success for all students. He has designed and implemented arts education and professional development programs in numerous locations through standards development, curriculum writing, and assessment. His knowledge of all art forms, with a special emphasis on developing the creative and collaborative processes, has allowed him to strategically plan successful community partnerships, donor development campaigns, and recruitment programs with a unique commitment to serving economically challenged and historically resilient populations. Skrzesz is an active master teacher of acting and dance throughout the United States. He has served as the performing and visual arts magnet teacher specialist for Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Public Schools, executive director of the Clear Space Theatre Company and Kinetics Dance Theatre, and director of student life for the School of American Ballet. Long-term teaching posts include the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Goucher College, Southwest Missouri State University and the University of North Carolina. Skrzesz’s former students have appeared on television (Mad Men, Scandal, Will and Grace), Broadway (Mamma Mia! Chicago, The Wild Party, South Pacific, The Lion King, Hairspray, the Book of Mormon), and in numerous professional regional theatre and dance companies, movies, and national tours. Ken has danced, sung, acted, choreographed and directed both nationally and internationally. He earned his master of fine arts degree in dance from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he performed with the dance, opera and theatre departments. He is a native Baltimorean earning his bachelor of fine arts from Towson State University. Skrzesz’s recognitions include the Baltimore Mayor’s Award for Distinguished Service in the Arts, distinguished alumni awards from Towson State University and from the University of North Carolina, a choreography commission from the National Endowment for the Arts, and multiple choreography awards from the Maryland State Arts Council. Skrzesz is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. In 2016, he received the National Dance Education Association’s Outstanding Advocate and Champion of Dance Education award, and in 2017 received the Performing Arts Advocate of the Year award from the Scarborough Foundation. www.kenskrzesz.com
Arts Learning Projects Director
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Susan Oetgen directs the annual Professional Development Institute on behalf of NASAA’s Arts Education Working Group, facilitating mentorships for new state arts agency arts education managers and maintaining the arts education managers’ peer-to-peer network. During her tenure, Oetgen has supported the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Arts Subcommittee of the arts education peer group, and represented NASAA as facilitator and point person for the Arts Education Partnership’s national Equity Working Group. In 2017, Oetgen codesigned and managed NASAA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mentorship pilot program. Since 2018, Oetgen’s arts learning portfolio has included coordinating the biannual Mid-Atlantic Teaching Artist Retreat and directing NASAA’s creative aging projects. For more than 15 years, Oetgen has served as an arts manager, facilitator and teaching artist with a variety of arts and education organizations, including Everyday Arts for Special Education, Oregon Cultural Arts Coalition, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, SchoolTalk, Wyoming Arts Council, and Young Audiences Arts for Learning. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in theology with a specialization in the religions of the African diaspora from Georgetown University, a master of music degree in classical vocal performance with a specialization in Latin American vocal music from the Catholic University of America, and a graduate certificate in advanced skills in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University.
Teresa Bonner brings more than 30 years of professional experience in philanthropy, foundation and nonprofit leadership to her role as executive director of Aroha Philanthropies. She is a frequent presenter on philanthropy as well as on creative aging, including sessions at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Grantmakers in the Arts, Grantmakers in Aging, Americans for the Arts, Philanthropy New York and the American Society on Aging. Bonner previously served as director of the U.S. Bancorp Foundation, where she managed $20 million in grant making annually and led the company’s community relations activities; the Piper Jaffray Foundation; and two nonprofit organizations, Milkweed Editions and the Library Foundation of Hennepin County. Arts and cultural programs have long been a major focus of her professional experience and a personal passion. She is a principal in Family Philanthropy Advisors, with offices in Minneapolis and the Bay Area. Bonner graduated magna cum laude from the University of North Dakota with a degree in journalism. After completing law school at the University of Minnesota, she clerked for the Hon. Gerald Heaney of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and was a partner at the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist and Vennum before moving to the nonprofit sector. Bonner is an avid potter and gardener.
Visual Artist and Educator
Lynda Monick-Isenberg is a visual artist and educator. A longtime faculty member at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she designed and taught undergraduate and graduate courses and developed the Teaching Artist minor, mentoring hundreds of teaching artists working across ages, visual art forms and organizational needs. She contributes as a teaching artist and consultant with a variety of organizations, including CommonBond Communities, COMPAS, Aroha Philanthropies, Lifetime Arts, Minnesota Perpich Center, the Kennedy Center and University without Walls. Her artwork is in private and public collections and has been commissioned and exhibited nationally. Monick-Isenberg cofounded The Drawing Project, a community based roving drawing experience in the Twin Cities, and was a founding member of the Minneapolis Form+Content Gallery and The Jewish Women’s Artist Circle. She is a member of the Jewish Artist Lab.
Annie Meek Montgomery
Director of Education
Annie Meek Montgomery is the director of education for Lifetime Arts, where she leads the design and delivery of Lifetime Arts’s many professional development and education efforts. She facilitates trainings for a wide range of practitioners including teaching artists, librarians, arts organizations and funders. She has presented on creative aging at several national conferences, including National Guild Conference, Grantmakers in the Arts, American Alliance of Museums, American Alliance of Theatre Educators, Live On and many others. As a teaching artist, Montgomery has taught numerous creative aging memoir and performance workshops throughout the New York metropolitan region in public libraries and community settings, including being awarded the New York City SPARC grant in 2014 and the SUCASA grant in 2017. Additionally, she was a teaching artist for more than 20 years with such organizations as The New Victory Theatre, Disney Theatrical Productions, Creative Theatrics and (Out)Laws and Justice. Montgomery is a faculty member at The New School College of Performing Arts, where she teaches the full-year required course, Collaborative Research Studio – The Teaching Artist. She is an active theatre artist as an actor, director and playwright. Montgomery received her bachelor’s degree in acting from Boston University and her master’s in educational theatre from New York University.
In more than a decade as a writer, speaker and consultant, Tovar Cerulli has helped many public- and social-sector leaders and stakeholders gain insights, discover shared values and expand visions in new directions. Guided by twin passions for healthy relationships—with nature and among human beings—he specializes in work at the intersection of environmental conservation, strategic communication and multicultural engagement. Cerulli has led seminars for dozens of state agencies, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions and has delivered keynotes on sensitive topics for diverse audiences at many gatherings, including the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. Author of The Mindful Carnivore, he has penned numerous essays and articles, including a chapter for The Handbook of Communication in Cross-cultural Perspective, and was honored to be an Aldo and Estella Leopold Resident in 2015. He has also worked in sustainable forestry and is handy with a chainsaw.
Eric Friedenwald-Fishman is a pioneer of social purpose innovation. He brings 30 years of experience helping large and complex mission-driven organizations (public agencies, large nonprofits and foundations) design and implement narrative and policy change initiatives. He has deep advocacy, policy and public funding experience and is expert at building coalitions and designing effective grass-tops and grass-roots advocacy efforts. Friedenwald-Fishman’s approach focuses on engaging internal and external stakeholders to inform development of powerful creative, effective strategies and winning campaigns so they are grounded in core values, are authentic and relevant, and are based in data. He is the principal author of the Public Will Building Model (a values based social and cultural change approach now utilized worldwide by advocates and long-term change strategists). He is cofounder of Creating Connection and a long-time volunteer advocate and board member of arts and arts support organizations.
Rob Sassor believes deeply in the power of stories and narratives to expand paradigms and influence what we prioritize and measure, along with the strategic planning and organizational development that brings clients’ stories to life. He brings 15 years of stakeholder engagement and communication, marketing, branding and organizational culture change experience, specializing in intersectional approaches to advance social and environmental causes. Sassor is a natural facilitator and technical assistance provider who helps coalitions and networks with wide-ranging dynamics hone a shared vision and a theory of change for accomplishing it. He has a passion for arts, culture and the humanities, and has provided technical assistance and capacity building (in partnership with Arts Midwest) to an array of arts organizations affiliated with the national Creating Connection initiative.
Thank you to the National Endowment for the Arts, Aroha Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation for supporting NASAA’s Shifting Policy and Practice: Insights and Actions for States learning series!
The work of NASAA and state arts agencies is strengthened in many ways through partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.