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Class of 2015
Katie Leigh Creeggan-Ríos
Katie Leigh Creeggan-Ríos is a Houston native and an arts advocate, facilitator, and leader. She received her B.F.A. in Stage Management from the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance and worked as a Stage Manager professionally for ten years before pursuing her degree in Arts Leadership. Her strengths and passions lie in facilitating the growth of the already vibrant arts community here in Houston. She is currently the General Manager of the Houston Cinema Arts Society, an organization that is dedicated to empowering Houston artists and engaging communities through diverse film programming. Additionally, Katie Leigh Creeggan-Ríos is still a practicing Stage Manager and a member of the Actors’ Equity Association.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program gave me the confidence, vision, and resources to expand my leadership skills and take my arts career to the next level. The instructors are collaborative and passionate, and the courses are truly tailored to artists and arts managers coming from all backgrounds and disciplines. I will always value and appreciate the relationships I was able to build as a student in this program.”
Allison is a native Houstonian with a background in photography, arts administration, and project management. She received a BFA with a concentration in Photography and a BA in Arts Management from the University of North Texas in 2017. Upon returning to Houston, Allison shifted her focus from studio practice to administrative roles, working to provide opportunity, resources, and support for local artists and organizations through project management, strategic planning, and curatorial endeavors. In 2020, she enrolled in the Masters of Arts Leadership Program to further develop her skills in leadership and arts administration. Passionate about creating inclusive and dynamic visual art programs outside of traditional spaces, Allison completed her practicum with Buffalo Bayou Partnership where she developed a Public Art Plan and recently joined the Houston Arts Alliance as a Project Manager for Civic Art +Design. In her free time, Allison enjoys traveling, playing board games with friends, and checking out the latest exhibitions on view around town.
“The Arts Leadership Program has been one of my favorite and most important things I have ever done. Each course was interesting and taught by experienced professionals who are engaged and active in the arts. This resulted in lessons that were relevant and immediately applicable to my day-to-day work. My growth personally and professionally has been undeniably thanks to this program and the peers, friends, and colleagues I've met along the way.”
Kaitlyn B. Jones
Kaitlyn B. Jones is an interdisciplinary artist and arts administrator who believes that art is a conduit for healing, a seedbed for activism, and necessary fuel for the revolution against white supremacy.
Jones' dual passions for art and social justice fuel her advocacy for a world where accessibility is at the forefront of the arts sector. She actively engages in anti-racist practices and methodologies to create, curate and support art that diversifies community programming and is accessible to all communities regardless of race, age, gender, sexuality, ability or socio-economic status.
“I was worried about how I would gain valuable arts administration experience through a pandemic, but the MAAL program has certainly succeeded in its efforts to provide quality classes, professional experiences, and valuable connections throughout my time as a student.”
Laura Marie Moreno
LAURA MORENO completed an MFA in Theatre with an emphasis in Directing & Dramaturgy, MA in Arts Leadership, and a certificate in Arts in Health through University of Houston’s Katherine G. McGovern College of the Arts. She received a BFA in Acting in 2016 for the University of Houston School of Theatre And Dance. She is known throughout the local theatre community as a costume and wig designer, makeup artist, actress, producer, arts administrator, teaching artist and director. Laura has taught for the Alley, Main Street and the University of Houston. She is currently on the advisory board for El Zocalo at the Alley. She served as an advisor and task force member as well as on the play selection committee for Stages’ Sin Muros LatinX Theatre Festival. Her other projects include Bard in a Box: A Traveling Shakespeare Puppet Show and Women in Theatre - Houston. She’s the founder and Chief representative for the Parent Artists Advocacy League (PAAL) as well as served as amember of the College of the Arts Anti-Racist Task Force and an advisor for the School of Theatre and Dance DEI committee. She’s also the mama to a little monster named Izzy!
Ceci is an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on nature, farms, photo/video, social practice and education. She holds workshops through her project Survival Movements, exploring how storytelling through images can aid trauma recovery. Having a focus on how art aides the healing process, she has had art residencies at Texas Children’s Hospital, taught contemplative photography at Houston Methodist, and worked as a teaching artist with Aurora Picture Show, Fotofest, Houston Center for Photography, Culture of Health AdvancingTogether (CHAT), Be the Peace Be the Hope. She uses creativity to inspire and visual language to heal while having fun with storytelling.
Sarah N. Richardson
Raised in a military family, Sarah N. Richardson traveled to many countries growing up, fostering a general love for the arts, history, and culture. This led her to earning a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership Studies from the University of North Texas in 2020, specializing in critical identity studies and community resource management. In the midst of a global pandemic and societal unrest, Sarah decided to pursue her M.A. in Arts Leadership. During her time in the program, she focused on museum management, social justice, and the power of quiet leadership with the goal of using the arts and culture sector to bring about change in society. In her spare time, you can find Sarah crafting, spending time with family, and playing video games.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program offered me so much in terms of professional and personal growth during a time when there was a need for change in many aspects of our lives. When I joined the program, I joined a community of wonderful students, alumni, and faculty from a variety of backgrounds, all motivated to support one another and make change in the arts sector. Leaving the program, I feel equipped with the tools and skills needed to bring about positive change in wherever my career leads me.”
Nina Saunders is a Theatre Director, Educator, and Artist Well-being Advocate that is one part sunshine counselor, one part theatre education innovator, and one part collaborative community builder. She is a native Houstonian with a dual degree of MFA Theatre and MA Arts Leadership from the University of Houston. In addition, she is a 500 hour certified trauma-informed yoga instructor who specializes in embodiment work for theatre, and is passionately studying socio-emotional wellness in theatre and theatre education through effective arts leadership and direction. Previously she worked for 15 years as a high school theatre director and 5 years as a professional director, lighting and sound designer with numerous theatrical touring companies. Her goal is to use the art of theatre to compassionately empower, enrich, inspire, and heal through the art of storytelling. In addition she is a bike adventurer, board game nerd, world cuisine foodie, wife and a mother to two playfully creative boys who provide her with a grounding respite.
“The Arts Leadership program at the University of Houston completely changed the trajectory of my career. This program led me to discover and develop my own unique interests in arts leadership and allowed me to be inspired to grow into the emerging field of arts in health. Not only has this program given me a brave space to explore wellness advocacy research for effective arts leadership it has given me a family of curious and inspiring artists whose innovative artistic approaches to grow the industry continuously impassion me.”
Debbie Thanh Vu
Debbie Vu was born and raised in Houston. She is a first-generation Vietnamese American. Growing up she has always had a passion for the arts whether it was doing custom commissions, designing costumes, or making ceramics, she always had a creative spirit. She was the first one in her family to go to get a bachelor's and a master's. She received her BFA in Sculpture from the University of Houston in Fall 2020. In Spring 2021, she began her master’s journey. Her practicum was with Every Shelter, a refugee nonprofit based in Houston. Her practicum was centered on how nonprofits could utilize crypto and NFTs as programming, marketing, and fundraising vehicles. When she is not creating artwork she is cooking, baking, running with her dog, and spending time with her friends.
“I came into the MAAL program at probably one of the worst times in my life, it was in the middle of a pandemic, my apartment flooded, and my mom had a heart attack, but through perseverance and the support of my friends and the faculty in this department, I was able to survive and thrive. I am truly grateful for this program it has taught me so much about what it means to be a successful art leader. I could not recommend this program more to artists and arts admin alike looking for the next step!”
Aubrey is an all-around creative wrangler with a keen focus on the preservation of human culture. She is a graduate of the University of Houston with a B.S. in Physical Anthropology. She possesses an extensive background in profit and non-profit art with aptitudes in fundraising, relationship management, and data acquisition and analysis. Her current role is with the Houston Arts Alliance as the Manager of External Affairs. Her driving force is to act as a conduit for individuals and organizations through developing meaningful relationships; advocating for total arts access and inclusion. As a regular contributor for Spectrum South publications, Aubrey spends time collecting vintage apparel, dabbling in photography, and writing.
“The program has transformed me from a participant to Leader. It fused the emotional intelligence of championing the arts with the vital foundational skills of arts administration. This was stewarded by exemplary professors, courses, and speakers -- to which many of whom I am fortunate to now call my peers and teachers. The Arts Leadership program has brought confidence into my professional development and passions. Most importantly, it has allowed me to work alongside empowering humans to create demonstratable change in the arts.”
Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Kathleen has always had a strong interest in arts advocacy and community engagement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music with a minor in Music History from the University of the Incarnate Word. During her time in the M.A. in Arts Leadership program at the Universityof Houston, Kathleen has blossomed as an arts leader. She completed her practicum at The Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, where she reimagined how museums could engage with their community. Kathleen strives to create meaningful art experiences for all and looks forward to a lifelong career in the arts. In her free time, you can find Kathleen spending time with loved ones, trying out new foods, or reading a good novel.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program has given me the tools for my future as an Arts Leader. The skills I have developed, mentors I have connected with, and colleagues who have worked alongside me have shaped my understanding of the field of arts administration. With this newfound perspective, I look forward to creating equitable and engaging spaces. The MAAL program has helped me become a catalyst for change.”
Alanna Khubieh is a native Houstonian, visual artist, and passionate arts leader. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from HBU in 2017, she decided to pursue her Master’s at UH in 2019 to broaden her leadership skills. As a first-generation student, an Honors College graduate, and a member of Phi Mu fraternity, she enjoys engaging invarious communities and learning about other perspectives in life. She has worked for HBU, CAMH, and currently works at UH at Sugar Land. When she isn’t working, she enjoys playing tabletop RPGs, rollerblading, and spending time with her scaly pets. She also enjoys catching up with other students and graduates in the MAAL program at ALASA events! You can follow her work at alannakhubieh.com and @alannakhubieh on socialmedia.
“There is no other master's program in Houston that offers as much hands-on leadership experience as the MAAL program does. In particular, the practicum portion of the program offered the best learning experience of my professional career. I am proud to count myself among the growing number of professional art leaders in Houston and beyond.”
Ana Carolina Martinez
Ana Carolina Martinez was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. Learning how to communicate in a visual manner inspired her to pursue art. From an early age, she had a creative mind. Art, creativity and design sparked a sense of enthusiasm and excitement within her. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Texas at El Paso. After that, she worked as a graphic designer, but knew there was more to learn and explore. In 2019, she enrolled in the Arts Leadership Program and moved to Houston. She immediately fell in love with the city, the culture, the food and the art. She considers enrolling in the Arts leadership program and moving to a new city as the best decision she ever made.
“The Arts leadership program gave me the ability to meet industry professionals engage in the arts community. I learned leadership skills that helped me foster collaborations and skillfully navigate the complex challenges our arts organizations are facing. There are simply not enough words to describe how thankful I am for all of the opportunities I have been given and the people I have met through the Arts Leadership program.”
Originally from Mexico City, Lysette Portano has danced for several contemporary dance companies in Mexico City and in Houston. An inquisitive mind and natural explorer, she holds a B.A. in International Affairs and is interested in multicultural interdisciplinary projects, specifically within the performing arts. She hopes to keep advocating for the Arts in Europe or any city in the United States. She has extensive experience in a wide variety of projects that involve event management, research, catalogues and Strategic Planning. As the current Program Coordinator at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, she is excited about the opportunity of building bridges between artists and audiences, making the arts more accessible and forming connections across artistic disciplines. In her free time she enjoys watching a good performance, visiting galleries and museums, traveling and spending time with Sushi, her cat.
“The Program in Arts Leadership opened up for a whole new world of possibilities within the Arts. It really helped me define the professional path I want to follow. I’m really excited to keep working in this industry of which I’ve been part for so long, but now, as an Arts Administrator.”
Melissa Rose Tylinski
Melissa Rose Tylinski was born in Southern California, and as part of a military family, she traveled across the US until reaching a home base in Mobile, Alabama where her passion for art was born in sketching. As the years went by, she found herself gravitating toward art groups, studying techniques, philosophies, and human behaviors, and took these interests with her to Houston – a much larger arts community to navigate. She spent years navigating Houston as a painter, ABA therapist, and bartender. Ultimately, she decided to make her own path at the intersection of Arts and Health. She had the opportunity to learn Digital Analytics with Fresh Arts and pilot an Artist in Residency with the Center for Performing Arts Medicine. With the Arts in Health Certificate, she is equipped with the tools to continue on this path.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program opened my eyes to the possibilities in the Arts. We had incredible speakers, ambitious classmates, and most importantly supportive professors. I also began the program at a sweet spot – where we had to completely transition to online in Spring 2020 and figure things out. This was an interesting experience that paralleled the new era of flexibility.”
Originally from Oklahoma City, Liz has worked in the arts and nonprofits for 10 years. She earned a B.S. in Liberal Studies with a minor in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Oklahoma. Liz has also led independent projects, including the Lesbian Cinema Series in Oklahoma City. She consults on grants, project management, and administrative assistance in her current role at Fresh Arts. Her studies in the Arts Leadership program focused on community engagement and programming. Liz is interested in socially engaged art practices and their impact on social sculpture. She completed her practicum at Project Row Houses, and strives to create social change through art and facilitate accessibility in the field. In her free time, Liz enjoys cross stitching, pop culture analysis, hiking and biking, and spending time with her cats.
“The Arts Leadership program gave me the tools to transform my passion into action. This program has fundamentally changed my understanding of arts administration and helped me redefine art in a significant way. I will carry the lessons I learned in the Arts Leadership program throughout my career and my life. I am grateful for my time at UH, and all the mentors and peers who supported me throughout this journey.”
Charity was born in Birmingham, AL and raised in Nashville, TN. A southern girl at heart, she fell in love with the arts at a very young age from her exposure to country music to her participation as a ballerina at a dance studio. Over the years, her passion and respect for the arts grew into her involvement with theatre during her high school years, and undergraduate education. After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a minor in theatre from Birmingham-Southern College ‘19, she chose to pursue her career in the arts further. Hence, the study of her Masters in Arts degree. Throughout her time in the Arts Leadership program, she was able to explore an array of pathways in the arts including but not limited to social engagement, policy, and law while finding inspiration, positive challenges, and solace in her courses. Her professional work and discovery of the power of the arts is just getting started.
“I want to sincerely thank the Arts Leadership program for the seeds of knowledge and experience they have sowed within me. I love the arts and the sky is not the limit for my career trajectory in this field. I believe that the arts will continue to thrive no matter the circumstances, and I want to be a part of that process.”
Cynthia K. Garcia
Cynthia Garcia is an actor/singer/producer/playwright whose ambition is to bring biblically-inspired and culturally relevant works to a local and global audience. This desire has led her to serve as Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of Exalted Arts, a non-profit performing and media arts company that produces values-driven entertainment.
Cynthia, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, NYC, has performed as an Equity touring actor, in New York based theatre productions, and locally at The Ensemble Theatre, where she is a two-time winner of The Ensemble Theatre's Giorgee Award. A member of the Dramatist Guild of America, Cynthia is committed to expressing biblical truth through creative content that inspires, uplifts, challenges, transforms.
Cyndie Meersman graduated from the University of Houston with a master’s in arts leadership and a master’s in Art Education. During her time at UH she explored the complexities of engagement as Public Art of the University of Houston System graduate student. Here she developed student docent programs and other engagement initiatives to introduce a larger audience to the art on her campus.
Cyndie started her college journey at Texas A&M majoring in business and minoring in traditional art. Upon graduating the pull of the art world lead her to the University of Houston MAAL program. Further exploring the connections of business and art she developed a love for art education. “Education is the engagement of people in a subject. I want others to fall in love with art as much as I do. I think education them about art is the best way to accomplish that.”
“This is what college is supposed to be, classes you look forward to attending.”
Jennifer C. Staples
Originally from Gainesville, Florida, Jennifer received her BFA from Dominican University of California as part of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA Program. She then danced professionally with Dance Alive National Ballet and Oakland Ballet. After retiring her career as a ballet dancer, Jennifer joined as staff at Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California before relocating to Houston to work at the Houston Ballet under Stanton Welch. After two years, she then focused her efforts on fundraising and took over as Special Events Manager at the Houston Symphony. Jennifer plans to move back to Gainesville, Florida to join the community’s efforts in revitalizing arts organizations. Her goal is to strengthen dance organizations through diverse programming, relevant business practices, and inclusive workplace cultures.
“I have so much gratitude and appreciation for this program, the professors and my peers. The M.A in Arts Leadership program gave me an unparalleled education and prepared me for the next phase of my career. The professional program flexibility allowed me to apply my classroom knowledge to my daily work in nonprofit organizations. I take with me more knowledge, confidence and pride thanks to the dedication and teachings of the ARLD professors.”
Born and raised in Texas, Andrea always had a passion for the arts. Growing up she learned cello, violin, viola, and performed in a mariachi and local musical theater. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Performance Studies with a minor in Psychology from Texas A&M University. During her time in the Arts Leadership program, Andrea reconnected with her passion for Arts in Health, with a focus on bringing art integrations for hospital patients, staff, and the outside community.
Andrea completed her practicum at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, interned at Houston Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine, and actively participates in the Arts Leadership Alumni + Student Association. In her free time, you can find Andrea spending time with loved ones, making a small painting for a friend, drinking hot tea or iced coffee, and finding creative ways to help others.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program was such an important and developmental time while I started my career as an Arts Leader. I came into the program wanting to follow at least three different paths; I was able to discover what I’m most passionate about in the field. I’ve been able to create connections with wonderful people in and outside the program, I can’t wait to bring my knowledge into play while uplifting and encouraging those around me.”
Malak Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud
Malak has a lifelong interest in the creative arts including both fashion design and interior design. She is also interested in the role of the arts in facilitating cultural diplomacy. Even though she was born and raised in Qatar, she has traveled and lived internationally. Because of her travels she has developed a passion for cultural exchange and the cultivation of mutual respect among countries. Malak is currently working on a cultural exchange exhibition between Qatar and the United States. The exhibition focuses on the heritages of Texas and Doha. It is collaboration between University of Houston, the General Consulate of Qatar in Houston and Qatar America Institute. Future exhibitions will be pursued and will feature a variety of locations. Malak received her undergraduate degree from Virginia Common Wealth University in Qatar with a double major in Fashion and Interior Design. Currently she is completing her Master of Arts in Arts Leadership at the University of Houston.
“Being a student at University of Houston and enrolled in the Master of Arts in Arts Leadership, I believe this program is very valuable for professional artists who are seeking to change, to lead, and to elevate the arts in their community. This program offers students with a personalized multidisciplinary approach that is actually serving niche in the art world.”
Janine Mae Arostique, a native Houstonian, received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Liberal Studies, with a focus on Creative Work and Interdisciplinary Art, from the University of Houston in 2015. After completing internships at 14 Pews, the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, and the Houston Arts Alliance, she pursued her Master of Arts in Arts Leadership and graduated in May 2020. She previously worked at the Houston Ballet, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and as a private piano teacher in River Oaks and West U. As an advocate for accessibility and representation in the arts, you can find Janine raising funds as the Development Manager at Asia Society Texas Center. Her hobbies include dining at fine restaurants, cooking and crafting cocktails for friends, practicing yoga, traveling, and playing with her sassy calico cat, Milo.
“The Master of Arts in Arts Leadership program gave me the confidence and courage to become an unstoppable force within the industry. I am truly indebted to for my professors and classmates for instilling my personal mission to create positive societal change in my role as an arts administrator.”
Music and the arts have been a massive part of Jessica's entire life. Born and raised in the Central Texas area, she received her Bachelor's of Arts in Opera and Business Administration from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB) as the first in her family to graduate from college. During her time at UMHB, Jessica discovered and fell in love with opera. She performed several operatic roles such as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro along with covering the role of Fiordiligi in Cosi Fan Tutte. In addition to her operatic roles, Jessica performed over 50 performances of a variety of children's operas to students around the Central Texas area. After a lot of soul searching after graduation and an internship at The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY, Jessica discovered working in the arts was her true passion with hopes to give back to the art form that gave her so much. During her time in the M.A. in Arts Leadership program, Jessica was involved with several arts organizations, including Opera in the Heights, Apollo Chamber Players, and Houston Grand Opera. She also volunteered at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) 2019 Conference in New York City. An emerging arts leader and arts marketer, Jessica hopes to bring new audiences to opera and to create engaging content that can help bridge the gap between opera and its current and future audience. Jessica is incredibly thankful to her parents, friends, colleagues, and mentors for their support and love throughout her journey. She attributes much of her past and future success to her father, who migrated here as a young adult and instilled the importance of hard work, determination, and never losing sight of her dreams.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership degree solidified much of my career goals. Each professor, course, and colleague I’ve taken and met have helped me grow and explore my aspiration to be a leader in the arts. What I have enjoyed the most of this program is the flexibility it offers in curriculum. I was able to branch out and take courses in other schools at UH and pursue independent studies. Working with several arts organizations alongside this program allowed me to take this program beyond academia in a real-world setting. I am excited to take the skills and tools from this degree to the rest of my career as a hopeful future Executive Director.”
Hannah, a native Texan, is an emerging arts leader. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications and film studies and holds a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from Texas A&M University. Before entering the Arts Leadership program, she served as a College Counselor and Teacher for KIPP Public Schools. As an arts leader, Hannah’s main goal is to connect her community with the arts as well as be an advocate for the arts. She has worked in arts education capacities through previous roles and projects in The Art Museum of South Texas, Blaffer Art Museum, The Hobby Center for Performing Arts, and Lawndale Art and Performance Center. When not focused on making the arts accessible to all, one may find her outside, pursing creative projects or drinking lots of coffee.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program was an incredible learning and transformative experience. It helped me develop my skills as a leader as well as connect me with like-minded and passionate individuals. The flexibility of the program allowed me to explore different interests and gave me the opportunity to work with a variety of arts organizations. Not only did the program give me the courage to pursue my passions, but it equipped me with the skillset and connections to accomplish them.”
Natalya C. Hutchinson
Natalya Hutchinson was born and raised southwest of Houston in Missouri City, Texas. She graduated from the University of North Texas in 2015 with a BFA in Printmaking and minor in Entrepreneurship. Since then she has been administering classes at Sugarland School of Fine Art for four years teaching students of all ages. In order to fulfill her passion for education and community building for the underserved, Natalya began the Arts Leadership program. Natalya is a lover of health and fitness with a background in Track & Field. One of her goals is to blur the lines between art and sports. She is also a freelance artist and graphic designer, helping individuals bring their dreams to reality. Her personal work portrays empowerment and self-awareness often using black representation, nature, and various line work. ImaNATural is a brand that she started to promote self-love and embrace everyone’s unique qualities.
“I now feel certain and secure with the various pathways that I could choose on my journey. This program has helped me discover an entire side of the arts that I was completely unaware of. I’ve met aspiring people along the way and left with beautiful friendships. Best decision I made.”
A certified PK-12 Theater educator, LaKeisha is currently the A.D. Players AFA (Arts for All Disabilities) Troupe Director and an Academy AFA Advocate and Inclusive Classroom Instructor. She is the Theatre director at David Crockett in FBISD. She has written and directed theater for young audiences for several theaters, most recently directing her personally written children's show, "Orisha The Great" and "Petey Pan and The Nola Boys" for the Ensemble Theatre and her adaptation of "Tarzan The Musical" for The Monarch School. She is the owner of R.A.W (Revival Arts Ministries), a program created to provide local churches with artistic fund raising opportunities for their youth and young adults. She also has the pleasure of being the catering, events, and community-engagement coordinator for The Shack Houston (@TheShackHou)(@ComeGetShacked), her family-owned restaurant located just a short drive from the medical center in the heart of Sunnyside, Texas. Her plans are to use her passion for food, art, theatre, education and politics to curate neighborhood events and community engagement opportunities that inform and empower local communities. Her most recent event is SunnysideUP. An annual vendor pop-up and student mural art festival to kick-off the summer. She partnered with the 3 local schools (Kipp-Sunnyside, Provision, and Worthing Highschools), the City of Houston, mentor professional artists: Melinda Rushing, Craig C. Tha Artist, and Charles Washington, Harambee Art Gallery and many others to create a cultural celebration and show the pride in Sunnyside. The event will transform The Shack into a creative space that will hopefully begin to foster community engagement through food and art.
“Pursuing my graduate degree was like holding life's mirror, seeing my reflection, and finding the courage to be honest about what I was seeing. Grad school gave me the reassurance that all the little pieces of myself would be needed to fulfill my purpose and then equipped me with the tools and skills needed to continue my life's journey full steam ahead.”
Maria Elisa Heg
María-Elisa Heg is a curator, cartoonist, and organizer living and working in Houston since 2005. She received BAs in Medieval Studies and Visual & Dramatic Arts from Rice University in 2009, and completed her MA in Arts Leadership at University of Houston in 2019. As an artist and organizer she has participated in exhibitions and programming with organizations such as Art League Houston, Blaffer Art Museum, Caroline Collective, CentralTrak, DiverseWorks, Hardy & Nance Studios, Lawndale Art Center, Matchbox Gallery, and Project Row Houses. Since 2012 she has been an organizer of Zine Fest Houston, recipient of a 2018 Houston Arts Alliance Festival Grant. She is currently a Curatorial Fellow at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
“I would describe my MAAL experience in one word: Timely! It was exactly what I needed at a crossroads in my professional career. It helped me push myself to the next level and build invaluable skills that paid off immediately. I am grateful for the amazing faculty of this program, who brought their enthusiasm and professional expertise to the table every day. MAAL has done an excellent job of integrating students into the arts community of Houston, something that makes me very optimistic when I think about what the next few years of Arts Leaders will bring from MAAL to the City of Houston!”
Danielle Aldea Hodgins is a Houston based artist and designer working in many mediums and creative outlets. She has enjoyed a freelance career as a muralist, visual artist, set designer, costume designer, puppetry artisan, movement performer and choreographer. Danielle holds a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies from Cornell University, B.F.A. in Set and Costume Design from Syracuse University, and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from University of Houston. Danielle currently works with University of Houston Downtown’s O’Kane Theatre as Drama Faculty in Costume Design. Additionally, she continues her freelance art practice. As an arts leader, she looks to celebrate diversity and connect communities through the arts. In her spare time she is cuddling with her three pups.
“As a professional artist, the MAAL program has given me the business tools necessary to make all of my creative dreams become reality.”
Lauren Miller is a trained opera singer, animal rescue connoisseur, communications specialist, and lover of the oxford comma. She graduated in 2017 with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance from Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, and returned in 2018 to pursue her Masters of Arts in Arts Leadership after falling deep into the world of non-profit leadership.
She has performed on stages around the United States and Europe, and has taught extensively in the Houston-area. In the non-profit sector, Lauren has worked with Best Friends Animal Society, Ars Lyrica Houston, and Texas Music Festival, where she completed her practicum as Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator. She is excited to continue singing, saving cats, and implementing the skills she learned during her time in the MAAL program while working with a myriad of mission-driven organizations she feels passionate about in her current position at Like Minds Communications.
“I entered this program expecting to leave with a graduate degree and instead came away with a new and exciting career path that I had never anticipated. The M.A. in Arts Leadership program encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and take just the right amount of risks. The practical application style of the program made a world of difference in my work life, as did the ability to learn from Houston’s top arts leaders.”
Mickailis (Mick) Molina earned a Bachelor of Music with elective studies in teacher certification from the University of Houston. As a multi-instrumentalist and educator he worked in youth outreach programs through the Moores School of Music and the Houston Youth Symphony. He has also worked with organizations such as the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio and the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival.
Wanting to stay professionally involved in the kinds of artistic organizations that shaped his youth, he began graduate studies in the Master of Arts in Arts Leadership program. He is now an emerging fundraiser and hopes to continue developing skills pertinent to the field. Mick enjoys keeping up with current events, reading, biking, and arranging music.
“The Arts Leadership program was a gateway to a world of interesting and challenging professional fields in the arts that otherwise may have gone unnoticed to me. Our studies highlighted the intersect between creative freedom and management, artistry and business. I left the program with an entirely new, but wonderful, career.”
Ariela Eunice Ventura
Ariela Eunice Ventura is a natural born creative leader. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California where she enjoyed painting and putting together many unique style combinations. It was very early on that she discovered the joy in fusing her passions with the desire to give back. Ventura became very involved in the visual arts and fashion world. She has and continues to spark the community with her unique perspective along with the desire to impact those around her. She has worked with numerous art nonprofits in Houston such as MECA, Writers in the Schools, Community Artist Collective, Houston Symphony, Free the Captives, Project Row Houses and many more. She holds a Masters in Arts Leadership, Bachelors in Public Relations along with a Certification in Nonprofit Management from the University of Houston. Ventura is very passionate about promoting sustainability through fashion. She is currently an ambassador for the non-profit design house, Magpies & Peacocks, where she helps advocate building up, reusing, and recycling designs versus tossing them to landfills. During the graduate program she completed her practicum at the Houston Symphony in the public relations department. Ventura led many exhilarating projects for the symphony such as putting together a complete fashion segment on Houston Life for the Selena Concert encouraging concert goers to attend in Selena inspired fashion. Using all that she has learned in the Arts Leadership program she intends to continue to carve her path towards leading change with a heart full of passion.
“The Arts Leadership Program at UH helped me discover my true potential. From day one, I was introduced to a completely new perspective. Had it not been for this program I would not have realized how much of a natural born leader I was. I am truly grateful for this wonderful journey of self-discovery. I feel more prepared and confident knowing that I have a complete tool kit consisting of all that I learned in this program. This was the best decision I ever made.”
Rebecca Ayres is a Houston native with a background in anthropology, literary theory and behavioral science. She has been active in independent theatre since 2003 and has worked with Spacetaker (now Fresh Arts), Infernal Bridegroom Productions (now The Catastrophic Theatre), DiverseWorks, Mildred’s Umbrella, dos chicas, Kid Ornery and many more. She is also active in animal rescue and has volunteered with the ASPCA (New York) field operative and as a dog and cat caregiver, as well as with Alley Cat Allies (Houston) as a trap-neuter-return advocate and Friends for Life (Houston) as a kitten foster. She is currently the managing director of Mildred’s Umbrella, Houston’s only feminist theatre company, and is committed to promoting equality and inclusivity in the arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from New York University and a Master of Arts in Arts Leadership from the University of Houston. When not theatre-ing, she likes to garden and walk her dog.
Brittney Flowers is a native New Yorker but has spent most of her years in Georgia. Before coming to Houston, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. Since her arrival in Houston, Brittney has become involved with both Houston Ballet and MET dance. Using what she has learned in the Arts Leadership Program and her employment with these organizations, she will continue to gain useful experience in administration to further her growth as a leader.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership Program has helped me mold the career I want and provided me with the necessary steps to reach the new goals I have created while in the program. I have learned things about myself that have helped me define who I strive to be as a leader.”
Lauren Hainley is a problem solver, planner and partner devoted to expanding the perspectives of the arts industry. In partnership with Fresh Arts, Lauren completed Five Ways Arts Organizations Can Use Data to Tell Their Stories as her Practicum. Before pursuing her master’s in arts leadership, Lauren worked full-time as an administrative professional and part-time as an actor, director and stage manager. She is a former student of Academia del’Arte in Arezzo, Italy, and a graduate of Hendrix College with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre. In her free time, she helps people see the beauty around them that they cannot see on their own with her company Archeya Photography.
Tyler Kay Reichert, "Tyler Kay"
Tyler Kay Reichert, “Tyler Kay,” completed her B.A. in art at the University of Houston where she continued to obtain her M.A. in arts leadership.
Tyler Kay owns and operates Tyler Kay Designs, LLC, a visual art company specializing in mural creation. She has completed projects and exhibited artwork both nationally and internationally. In the future, she strives to engage the public with their surroundings through the administration of participatory art projects.
“The Arts Leadership Program has enabled me to better understand the operations and management of arts organizations, both at the nonprofit and for-profit level. The courses provided me the knowledge of tools and skills necessary to operate my own visual arts company. I was educated on countless topics relevant to pursuing a career in the arts which included: art law, finance, grant writing, strategic planning and career development. I am grateful for the hands-on experience and mentorship provided in this program. I learned so much from my classmates, my professors and professionals within the community. I am certain that the connections made through the Arts Leadership Program will continue to serve my career in the years to come.”
A proud Houston native, Kristen Turner is a marketing and public relations nonprofit professional and passionate supporter of classical music. Her former education background includes both a B.M. and M.M. in vocal performance, during which she experienced opportunities to perform and teach professionally, helping to fortify her dedication to the field of classical music. Alongside her performance background, she has worked within arts administration over the last few years, specializing in public relations and marketing. Most recently, she has worked on long-term projects with several Houston organizations, including the Texas Music Festival, Bach Society Houston and the Apollo Chamber Players. Within her roles at these organizations she has had the opportunity to help build online brand awareness through digital marketing campaigns, coordinate press and media relations, and oversee the management of marketing materials and artwork creation, all helping to develop each organization’s unique identity in the community. Overall, her professional experience has helped to build upon strengths as a connector, storyteller and, above all else, advocate for the arts.
“Before entering the Arts Leadership Program at the University of Houston, I had lost my sense of direction in the arts world. Now, I feel more driven than I have in years. Not only has this program given me the tools necessary to pursue the career of my dreams, but the confidence to know that all the success coming my way is well-earned and deserved. I can honestly say this has been one of the best and most defining decisions of my life.”
Photo/Marissa Paz, Little Pieces Studio
Julia Claire Wallace is a Houston-based artist and organizer. She holds a B.F.A. in painting from the University of Houston, in addition to her master’s in arts leadership. She continually blurs the boundaries between art and life, creatively facilitating performance art collectives and events, as well as creating in a variety of media including social practice, painting, writing, spoken word, social media, performance and video. She is the foundress of Performance Art Houston, an entity created to cultivate the Houston performance art scene. She co-directed the international performance art festival Lone Star Explosion 2012 and is a founder and director of Experimental Action, a performance art festival in Houston.
“The Arts Leadership Program connected me with incredible resources and brilliant minds from the Houston arts world. It also gave me insight into the workings of this field and skills that have moved me forward towards the accomplishment of my goals. Additionally, I was given effectively crafted opportunities to learn more about myself and solidify and strengthen myself as a powerful and responsible leader in the arts. I am incredibly grateful for my experience in this program.”
Ileana Yordan is an arts administrator with a passion for gallery management and the visual arts. She holds a B.A. in international business with an academic background in art history from St. Edward’s University. She began her arts administration career working as the creative director for the Olaju Art Group, a start-up nonprofit arts organization in San Antonio, and moved to Houston to pursue a master’s in the M.A. in Arts Leadership Program.
During the program, she completed her Practicum at the Lawndale Art Center and has worked as the gallery manager at Catherine Couturier Gallery, curating exhibitions and working alongside artists and Houston’s visual arts community.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership degree is an incredibly enlightening program that has given concepts such as entrepreneurship and community engagement profoundly deepened meaning. The program has significantly broadened my perspective to the scope of arts administration, strengthened my theoretical and practical knowledge, and provided valuable tools that have empowered me to continue building a truly meaningful and impactful career as a leader in the visual arts.”
Briana Gonzalez is a native Houstonian who is passionate about art museum management and museum education. After successfully completing her Practicum placement at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the Exhibitions department, she became the administrative assistant for Exhibitions in August of 2017. She holds a B.A. in art history from Baylor University, and received her M.A. in arts leadership and graduate certificate in museum education from the University of Houston in December, 2017. During her time in the program, she served as the graduate assistant to the director of the Arts Leadership Program, and was a founding member of the Arts Leadership Alumni and Student Association, serving as chair of the Professional Development Committee.
“Being a part of the Arts Leadership program at UH has been a fantastic experience for me personally and professionally. I feel completely prepared for whatever path my professional career may take, and confident that I now have the skills to meet any administrative challenge. It is the intangible qualities of the program which makes its students so successful, and to which I owe my success: the ability to forge new professional relationships, acquire and build confidence in new skills, and the opportunity to take professional leaps of faith. The flexibility of the program makes it maximally effective, even if you have never worked in the arts before or have taken time away from the arts, the program adjusts to each person’s journey.”
Photo/J. LaCour Photography
Karoline Hurlen Melstveit
Karoline Hurlen Melstveit is a classical saxophonists and arts leader with a passion for music and finance. She has a bachelor of music in performance and studied saxophone with René Wiik at the Grieg Academy of Music in Bergen, Norway, and with Andreas van Zoelen at Fontys School of Fine and Performing arts in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Karoline has also been taking private lessons from Carina Rascher as well as with members of the Rascher Saxophone Quartet. She is a freelance musician and instructor active in Europe and America and has performed alongside the Rascher Saxophone Orchestra. She completed her Practicum placement at the Houston Symphony’s finance department, and will be the first international student to graduate from the Arts Leadership Program at the University of Houston.
“I love how flexible this program has been. I have gotten the chance to combine classes in arts management with master level accountancy classes at the Bauer School of Business, and the opportunity to focus on music management for my practicum placement and in my core classes. The students in the program are all masters of so many different arts and crafts, and I think it is great that we all are given the chance to create our own path to arts leadership.”
Ryann Roussel is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and holds a B.A. in English literature from Louisiana State University. Ryann worked as a business development manager in the private sector before deciding to pursue an M.A. in arts leadership, hoping to merge her love of the arts with her business background. She currently works at Theater District Houston as the special events and digital media manager.
“Before discovering this program I didn’t know that I could be involved with the arts professionally, without being a professional artist. The Arts Leadership Program helped me pivot my career track and find a job in a sector that I am passionate about.”
Caroline Docwra is a photographer, curator, and writer with a great passion for working with Houston’s communities and championing the healing potential of the arts. She holds a Master’s in Arts Leadership and a Bachelor’s in Biology and Art History from the University of Houston. She has worked with various organizations including Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Fort Bend Theatre, Houston Center for Photography and the Children’s Museum of Houston. Caroline currently works with the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist as the Visual Arts Project Specialist to develop and expand their Visual Arts integration programs for their employees, visitors and patients. During this time she has built visual art programs from the ground up utilizing her past experiences, research, and learned best practices from the arts and health field. All programs now incorporate evaluations for their effectiveness and whether they follow the strict set of policies and procedures in place to keep people safe. This work includes implementing new art cart programs for patients, expanding art classes and experiences for employees, and expanding art installations throughout the eight Houston Methodist campuses across Houston.
“The MAAL Program has change my life. I never knew I could do the things I have accomplished through this program. I have gained a new confidence in myself, my abilities and my experiences. I am so thankful for all the people I have met; these contacts have been the most valuable to my career and life.”
Justina Faye Hall
Justina Faye Hall received both her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in creative work and an M.A in arts leadership from the University of Houston.
Justina completed her Practicum placement as an intern in The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, an opportunity which further supported her passion for engaging communities through arts and culture. She has grown tremendously through lessons learned in the program and will continue defining and amplifying her unique identity as an arts leader.
“I have learned more about myself in this program than I have in any other academic setting. As a result, I’ve become less afraid of stepping outside of my comfort zone. The MAAL Program emphasizes collaboration, networking and the beauty of embracing your challenges, strengths and vulnerabilities to become a well-rounded arts leader.”
Photo/ Mitch & Gunner
Alexandra Di Nunzio
Alexandra is a fundraiser and arts advocate who enjoys creative problem solving and thrives on challenging projects and successfully “flipping” programs. She looks forward to using her M.A. in arts leadership to further her professional work and is excited to reach out in the Houston community to serve a variety of causes and organizations. Through the MAAL Program, she has worked with Society for the Performing Arts and HITS Theatre. Alexandra currently works as a development operations manager for the Houston Ballet.
“The MAAL Program has given me not only the knowledge and network to effectively impact the community, but the confidence to create my own path within the arts sector. I am so grateful to all of my peers and professors.”
Chenay Newton is an arts administrator who has a passion for dance and arts education. She began her career in the non-profit sector upon completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia. A native Virginian, Chenay moved to Houston to pursue a career specifically in the arts, beginning with earning her M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston. During her time in the MAAL Program, she worked with Houston Ballet and the Children’s Museum of Houston.
“The Arts Leadership Program has helped me combine my love for dance and arts education with the administrative backing to make meaningful impact as an arts leader.”
Isabelle Dom works in the Education and Community Engagement department at the Houston Ballet where she focuses on audience engagement and issues of access to the arts.
Isabelle holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and a Bachelor of Arts in global studies from Randolph College and a Master of Arts in Arts Leadership from the University of Houston.
“The Arts Leadership Program is impressively crafted. The professors are not only industry professionals themselves but they increase access to other industry professionals through guest speaking. The projects assigned are practical and relevant and send students out into the community, which only contributes to each student’s network. Most importantly, my fellow MAAL students are equally impressive, all in their own right. My relationships with them are, by far, my most valuable outcome.”
Rashida E. Moore
Rashida E. Moore is a native Texan who holds a B.A. in applied music from Baylor University and will received her M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston in May 2017. As a performer, arts advocate and fundraising professional, she has over eight years of experience in non-profit development and has also served organizations in the areas of membership, special events management and education. During her time in the MAAL Program, Rashida maintained employment with the American Institute of Architects, Houston Chapter (AIA Houston) and has had the privilege of profiling and working alongside seasoned arts leaders from Houston-based organizations including Ars Lyrica, Community Artists’ Collective, Houston Ballet, Opera in the Heights and the Society for the Performing Arts. She completed her Practicum placement in Washington, D.C. with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and worked as an intern in the Office of Council Relations and Special Initiatives during the museum’s first year of opening. This opportunity was a great honor and served to refresh and reinvigorate her passion for emboldening philanthropy for arts and culture organizations. As an arts leader, Rashida values and speaks to the power of the performing, visual and literary arts to transcend language, culture, race, ethnicity, class and abilities to communicate and promote unity, empathy, dialogue and cultural exchange.
“The MAAL Program at UH has been quite an experience for me. I chose to remain in the workforce and pursue this degree part-time over the span of four years which provided for an experience that was full of challenges. But, I now walk away with a valuable 21st century education that will propel me forward as a change-maker, innovator and forward-thinking arts leader. I am confident that this program has prepared me well to bridge the successes of the past with the vast opportunities for the future of the arts in our country. Yes, it took me some time to get here but, it’s surely been worth the wait!”
Briar Koehl completed her B.A. in art history and studio art with a concentration in painting at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana and her M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston.
During her time in the program, she has worked in the Houston area at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Cindy Lisica Gallery and served as the events co-chair for the Arts Leadership Alumni and Student Association Board.
“I am more thankful than words can describe for my time in the M.A. in Arts Leadership Program. It has given me the administrative and theoretical framework that I did not receive through my undergraduate art history and studio classes. Through my two years in the program, I have met and grown wonderful relationships with my professors, peers and arts leaders in the Houston area.”
Jordon Nickerson is a Houston based musician and administrator focused on developing new business models in the music industry. Jordon completed his undergraduate degree in music marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. After relocating to Houston, he began playing violin in the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, and later serving on the Board of Directors of the organization. In August of 2016, Jordon became the operations manager of the Houston Youth Symphony.
“The Arts Leadership Program has been valuable for me because it helped me get over many of the psychological barriers to pursuing a career in the arts. The thought of making a career out of the arts can be anxiety inducing, but when you have the solid understanding of how organizations work, practical hands-on experience and the support of a community, all of which the Arts Leadership Program provides, you’re able to make that leap of faith with much more confidence.”
Denae Powell is a native of Bassfield, Mississippi and a graduate of Tougaloo College. Denae is a huge advocate for arts education and its importance to the growth and development of future generations.
“My B.A. in art education gave me the tools to teach and nurture children in an artistic fashion. This MAAL degree has given me the tools to work with adults, educating and informing them on the importance of ensuring that each child gets quality and equitable access to arts education.”
Nancy Agin Dunnahoe
Nancy Agin Dunnahoe is a creative marketing professional, music publicist/archivist and proprietor of Neon Artifact, a content agency for the arts. She graduated from the University of Houston Honors College with a B.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in arts leadership from the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts at UH. Nancy manages a legacy collection of Texas underground music, arts and cultural ephemera, which she preserves and shares as the digital humanities effort, Wild Dog Archives. She and her co-collaborator, Tayvis Dunnahoe, are also preserving the Audio/Video Plus archive and own a collectible VHS business specializing in genre film.
Nancy has assisted Lawndale Art Center, DiverseWorks and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) with organizing and promoting events and exhibitions. While completing her Practicum in 2016, she co-organized an exhibition of select artifacts from the archive of Mydolls, Houston’s original femme punk band, and participated in the 20HERTZ lecture “A World of Our Own: Mydolls and the Houston Punk Scene,” for which she created a zine catalog.
“The incredible mentors I’ve met during my graduate studies have helped me grow, not just as a creative entrepreneur, but as an advocate of our local arts community. Houston has many unsung heroes and creative pioneers. Through the MAAL Program, I’ve honed my vision of creating an agency dedicated to shining a light on and preserving their stories so we can know our city’s significant artistic and cultural impact.”
Kathrine Zeren Gilmer
Kathrine Zeren Gilmer is the owner and designer of a Houston-based collection of men’s accessories, Kathrine Zeren.
She is passionate about promoting sustainability in design and helping to build up the apparel design and manufacturing industry in the Houston area. Her past experience includes working as an art and design educator and designing for a major corporate retailer. She holds an M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston and a B.F.A. in apparel design from the Rhode Island School of Design.
“The Arts Leadership Program at UH has helped to broaden my understanding of what it takes to effectively manage an arts-based organization, both at the nonprofit and for-profit level. I know that the connections I have made as a result of the program will continue to play a vital role in my future work.”
Kayla M. Boffone
Kayla M. Boffone is a director, educator and arts advocate with over five years’ experience in arts education. Throughout her time in the MAAL Program, she worked with the Houston Shakespeare Festival, Indo-American Association and Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.
“The Houston arts scene becomes your classroom as you are provided the opportunity to explore every type of arts organization. I am grateful for the hands-on experience and mentorship this program provided.”
Olivia Howell-Wilson completed her B.A. in art history at the University of North Texas and her M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston.
When thinking about furthering her education, she began looking into graduate programs that could enrich and define her career goals to advocate creative freedom and support the education of the arts to children. Due to a successful Practicum placement through the Arts Leadership Program, Olivia now works as the Maker Annex Coordinator at the Children’s Museum of Houston.
“The Arts Leadership Program offers a unique experience with professors ranging in backgrounds, talents and expertise. During my studies, my professors and advisors went above and beyond to guide my passions and help define my strengths and weaknesses so that I could become a more effective leader.”
Michael McFadden is a Houston-based arts writer, critic and organizer. He has organized exhibitions and programming around the city in solo projects and through the curatorial collaborative Suplex and has worked closely with several organizations in the visual arts community, including Project Row Houses and Art League Houston. Michael is an advocate for the rights of artists and is interested in the socioeconomic construction of the value placed on art. He is also your new best friend.
“The Arts Leadership Program is an excellent means for discovering, tapping and cultivating the potential that one holds for their work in the arts. Through the theoretical development and practical application of ideas, you can learn how to support an existing organization or construct your own.”
-Photo/Alex Barber, courtesy of Art League Houston
Graciela Ruiz is a Texas native with a diverse background in the visual arts. She holds undergraduate degrees in fine arts and art history from the University of Houston. In May 2016, Grace also received her M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston.
She has worked in an administrative capacity with C2 Art Advisors, Rothko Chapel and, most recently, the new Sugar Land Cultural Arts Department. In her work with the City of Sugar Land, Grace was vital to the implementation of a Cultural Arts Strategic Plan in the first year of its existence. Drawing on her wide array of administrative experience, she was able to support the burgeoning art community of Houston’s fastest-growing and most diverse suburb.
In addition to her administrative work in the arts, Grace also continues to explore her interest for book arts, contemporary craft and ceramics. In her free time, she volunteers for animal welfare organizations across the city. She lives in Houston with her husband, three dogs and one bearded dragon.
“The Arts Leadership Program has been an exceptional experience. Thanks to the program I was able to take advantage of many networking opportunities through class assignments, presentations and site visits. I am more in tune with Houston’s growing art community than ever.”
Jon Lindsey is a founder of Self Actualization Gallery and Blue Agave Writers’ Workshop, and also serves as a member of the MASS Gallery collective. Jon holds an M.F.A. in critical studies from CalArts and an M.A. in arts leadership from the University of Houston.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership Program has given me a clear-sighted understanding of how arts organizations operate, survive and flourish, as well as the freedom to test these theories, and myself, in real-world settings. The program makes perfect sense for experienced arts administrators looking to take the next step in their careers, and future arts leaders ready to get their feet wet by diving in head first.”
Duke Hunter earned his B.S. in liberal studies at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After moving to Houston with his wife in 2012, he began looking into graduate programs that could integrate a multi-passionate approach to building a career that encompasses experience in education, performance and arts management. Duke works as an associate teacher with the Houston Independent School District, a freelance musician, a private music instructor at Vivaldi Music Academy and as a house manager at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH).
“This program lays out a theoretical framework for the most crucial areas of nonprofit arts management — development, finance, marketing and public relations, and nonprofit management theory. I’m proud to be part of this program because I think it perfectly complements my undergraduate work in the humanities. Because of the comprehensive curriculum in this program I feel prepared to step into any managerial role with confidence and effectiveness.”
Alyson Landry is relatively new to Houston, having moved from Florida two years ago to begin her graduate studies at the University of Houston. Since her arrival in the Lone Star State, Alyson has worked with Houston Grand Opera in the Office of the General Director as well as with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs developing the City of Houston’s Arts and Culture Plan.
Prior to going back into the classroom as a graduate student, Alyson was the director of the Theatre Department at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts in Florida for six years. A passionate advocate for arts education, she helped to develop the school’s Arts Integration program — presenting her findings in New York and Chicago for the Arts Schools Network annual conferences. Along with teaching, Alyson has worked professionally in regional theaters and trained in London. She holds a Bachelor of the Arts degree in theatre from Florida State University.
"Being a brand-new Houstonian, the Arts Leadership Program offered a phenomenal opportunity to learn about this vital, diverse and thriving arts community from the ‘"insider perspective’ of proven leaders in the field. The professors imbue their courses with management savvy, professional connections and years of experience from a variety of leadership positions in the Houston arts scene. I feel excited, confident and eager to apply my knowledge in the arts community of my new hometown!"
Jessica Dodington is a native of St. Paul, Minnesota whose background includes working both on and off the theatrical stage for over the past decade. She has a B.A. in both theatre and dance performance from Gustavus Adolphus College, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Jessica completed her M.A. in arts leadership at the University of Houston in May 2015.
She has worked in the Houston area at Stages Repertory Theatre, Main Street Theater and the Aurora Picture Show. Additionally, Jessica has worked with Jewett Consulting, Queensbury Theatre and at Houston’s City Hall at the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Currently, Jessica is the marketing and development director at the Aurora Picture Show.
In complement to Jessica’s work in the arts, she is a Yoga Alliance certified vinyasa yoga instructor and has been teaching in Houston for the past eight years. Jessica currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Expanded Environment, a non-profit organization devoted to demonstrating alternative ways of integrating biologic agents into design and architecture.
“I am proud to have been part of the first graduating class in the Master of Arts in Arts Leadership Program and am thankful for the hands-on experience the program provides. Leaving the program, I feel much more connected to Houston’s arts community and confident in my ability to lead in the city I love.”
Andrea Huang has made a habit of being ahead of her time. From graduating a semester early from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor in Arts in theatre arts and her distinction as being part of the first graduating class from University of Houston’s M.A. in Arts Leadership Program, Andrea is comfortable in her role as part of the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit sector due to her background and enthusiasm for learning, passion for performance, dedication to the business of arts sustainability and international exploration.
“I started the program as an aimless young artist and am now graduating with all the tools I need to have a successful arts career. I have learned so much from the professors, professionals within the community and the unique hands-on experience I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.”
Dane Manuel is a native Houstonian. A huge supporter of music and education, he graduated with a Bachelor of Music with a minor in education from the University of Houston in 2011. In 2013, Dane founded the Houston Wind Symphony with the help of some friends and other proponents of music and education. Wanting to fully embrace this new organization, he returned to UH to take part in the inaugural year of the Arts Leadership Program, where he graduated in 2015 with his master’s degree. Dane is a teacher, conductor, music clinician and arts administrator. In his spare time, he composes and transcribes music.
“I was always a supporter of asking the right questions. But, as I created my own nonprofit organization, I didn’t know what questions to ask. The Arts Leadership Program taught me what questions to ask and how to show myself how to ask more. To draw from the fictional character Agent Starling, I can once again take the high powered finger of perception and point back at myself. I can now look both outside and inside to improve myself and my organization.”
Carolyn Casey Figueroa
Carolyn Casey Figueroa, a native Houstonian, received her undergraduate degree from University of Houston and then pursued a master’s degree in arts leadership. She grew up appreciating music, theatre, dance and the visual arts. As her love for the arts multiplied, she worked to support and advocate for artists and art projects and now is pursuing a career as an arts administrator, manager and art director. She began as project manager for a local arts organization, Aerosol Warfare, in 2008 and is arts manager to the well-known local artist GONZO247. She is a co-director of the Houston Urban Experience (HUE) Mural Festival and a co-founder of an emerging graffiti and street art museum organization. Carolyn combines passion and efficiency to assist local artists in various areas. She strives to protect and sustain the arts in the communities she works with and find innovative ways for the arts to adapt to constantly changing times.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership Program at UH has been a transformative experience that will impact my current and future endeavors in the arts. The arts business skills (soft and hard skills) that I have gained through this program will forever be a guide in my work. The program has prepared me to be a leader who recognizes that the arts are meant to be engaging, meaningful, pliable and ever changing. I feel more prepared than ever to adapt to change and be a pioneer in the field.”
Kara Cothern is a visual artist and art education advocate living in Houston, Texas. Upon receiving her B.A. in art history from the University of Houston in 2016, Kara began to work in local galleries, growing increasingly enthralled with the richness of Houston culture and the powerful role of art in bringing people together.
In 2017, Kara returned to the University of Houston to join the M.A. in Arts Leadership Program. Recognizing the critical role of arts education in forming local culture and shaping generational success, Kara shifted her focus to arts education. Currently, she works at Arts Connect, a collective impact organization working to bridge the gap in arts equity throughout Houston Independent School District. Kara lives in Katy and is the proud mother to a wonderful dog, Rembrandt-Martin.
"The M.A. in Arts Leadership Program opened doors to new areas of interest, mentorship opportunities and connections throughout the nonprofit community. Through this program, I received the essential tools and direction necessary to affect change in Houston arts."
MLE (Emily) McWilliams
MLE McWilliams is an energetic arts leader who looks to build enduring relationship for nonprofits, so they can help to transforms the local communities. Currently, she does this through her work at the Children’s Museum of Houston, where she creates engaging events and innovative experiences.
During the program, she completed her practicum at the Children’s Museum of Houston in the Business Development Department, where she helped to strengthen a relationship between the museum and Houston’s LGBTQ community through participating Pride Houston’s Festival and incorporating LGBTQ non-profits into the museum’s Open Doors Program.
During her free time, she writes for Houston-based queer online magazine Spectrum South and when it’s warm out, you can find her relaxing in the local pool.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership Program provided me the tools, guidance and support to help me strategize and focus on my goal of becoming a non-profit arts executive.”
Zachary Gresham is an educator, administrator, artist and musician. Zachary is currently the program manager for Arts in Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and is an instructor in the College of Education and the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts at the University of Houston. Previously, he worked at Art League Houston, Lawndale Art Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs at The City of Houston. His articles and interviews have been published in SchoolArts Magazine , Teaching Artist Guild Quarterly, TRENDS, The Journal of the Texas Art Education Associationand Art History Teaching Resources. His artwork has been included in several group exhibitions, including Lawndale Art Center’s “The Big Show,”where he received a juror award in 2017. Additionally, he is a cellist, where he performs with various community groups, including the Symphony of Southeast Texas. Zachary holds a B.A. from Lamar University, a certificate in nonprofit leadership from Rice University, participated in the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute (CAELI) through the National Guild for Community Arts Education and completed his M.A. in arts leadership and M.Ed in curriculum and instruction — art education from the University of Houston.
Rachael Fernandez is an emerging arts leader with a background in the performing arts industry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in stage management from Indiana University and, since moving to Houston, has worked for several companies including Houston Ballet, Main Street Theater for Youth, Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH), The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO). Rachael hopes to use her skills as a creative problem solver and momentum driver to support the creative vision of artists and develop equitable access in the arts community. As an administrator, it is Rachael’s goal to effectively manage complex systems in the nonprofit landscape. When she is not working, Rachael enjoys reading, spending quality time with friends and cuddling with her cats.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program gave me the tools I needed to become the professional I want to be. Not only have I gained a new set of skills to prepare me for my work ahead, but I have also gained a network of valued peers, colleagues and friends.”
Bobbie Hackett is an arts leader and musician, with a bachelor’s degree in music/voice from Southwestern University and a master’s degree in arts leadership from the University of Houston. She enjoys using her creative talents to build positive work environments and to help maximize the impact of others. She particularly enjoys supporting entrepreneurs by developing new ideas with the creators and tackling the administrative tasks that would otherwise hold them back from accomplishing the work they are most passionate about.
Bobbie completed her practicum at the Houston Arts Alliance, where she developed and implemented an operations plan for the Grants department. She digitized and organized the Grants department’s records and streamlined final reporting for grantees by helping the department shift to a fully digital final reporting process.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program prepared me for every administrative dilemma that has come at me thus far, but, more importantly, it gave me the tools to get out of my own way. I’m more confident and effective both personally and professionally than I would have been without this program. Pursuing this degree ignited passions I didn’t know I had and gave me the courage to pursue them.”
Mary Karcher completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Missouri in art history and archeology. She grew up in California and was exposed to some of the best art museums in the country, creating a fascination for the arts and museum industry at a young age.
While she does not consider herself to be an artist, she is a passionate advocate for the arts as well as a skilled digital marketing professional with an interest in the connection of art and technology.
During her time in the M.A. in Arts Leadership program, she completed a practicum at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the marketing department, where she developed the marketing plan for the blockbuster exhibit “Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art.”
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program has opened many doors for me over the past two years. From working with excellent and talented professors to having extremely gifted student colleagues, this experience gave me all the tools I needed to develop my professional career.”
Candace Noel is an award-winning graphic designer, creative director, visual artist and floral designer. She is also the founder and creative director of Houston-based floral design company, Flora Noel. Candace, a native Houstonian, earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic communications and master’s degree in arts leadership at the University of Houston. She is a creative entrepreneur who strives to solve problems through design. Candace specializes in branding and has helped small businesses and nonprofit organizations with branding for over 12 years. She is also especially passionate about Latin American performing arts. Former Mayor Annise D. Parker, on behalf of the City of Houston, proclaimed September 26, 2015 as “Candace Noel Day” for her community engagement, her commitment to social causes — for example, her service to the Salsa, Sabor y Salud program — and for elevating the arts through her artistry. When she is not designing or searching for new typography, she can be found painting, traveling or dancing salsa.
“The M.A. in Arts Leadership program was a wonderfully transformative experience and taught me how to design the creative life I desire for myself.”
Natalie Wells is a brand strategist and designer with a passion for supporting artists and entrepreneurs. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with concentrations in photography and graphic design from Nicholls State University in Southern Louisiana. Natalie has worked in in-house, freelance and agency capacities as a problem solver and communicator. She joined the M.A. in Arts Leadership program to forge a strong connection between her love of the arts and her marketing experience. She completed her practicum at The Black Sheep Agency where she developed a campaign for Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative — a project that helped secure her current full-time role there as an account manager. She now enjoys the challenge of working with a variety of nonprofit organizations and helping them reach new audiences.
“I didn’t simply go to graduate school — I had the honor of joining a community of fiercely dedicated, talented peers who challenged me and rallied behind me as I forged a new path in my career. Every instructor energetically showed up ready to push beyond academic theory to deeply meaningful discussions about the future of our industry. The exploratory format gave me the space to tailor my studies to my own professional and personal goals, and I met new people every step of the way who I know will be closely held mentors, friends and peers for years to come."