The USDAC's Cultural Agents are selected from a nation-wide open call. Their first mission? Enacting the USDAC at a local level by hosting local campaigns and events, including Imaginings—vibrant, arts-infused gatherings which bring together a diverse cross-section of neighbors to 1) envision their towns and cities in the year 2034 when the full transformative power of art and culture has been integrated into the fabric of society, and 2) to identify ways to get there, harnessing latent artistic talent and local cultural resources. While each Cultural Agent organizes in his/her own community, each cohort also works together to help spark a larger national conversation around cultivating the empathy and imagination we need to create a future we wish to inhabit.
SECOND COHORT OF CULTURAL AGENTS — 2015
Ali Toxtli is a New Jersey-born son of Mexican migrants. He studied Public Anthropology at Hawaii Pacific University and is currently a Masters candidate in Mexican Anthropological Studies at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla. His focus on migration is specific to new identity conceptualizations among children of Latin American migrants and economic development in marginalized towns. Ali considers gender, class, race and political economy analysis - from a decolonized perspective - necessary to better contextualize social issues given our global economic treaties. His ultimate goal is to help create projects that foster social, economic and cultural change for both marginal communities and individuals in Latin America and the United States.
Angelin Chang is a critically acclaimed classical pianist, and the first American woman to win the GRAMMY® Award (Best Instrumental Soloist with orchestra). Born in Muncie, Indiana, she graduated from Ball State University and holds the Premiers Prix from the Paris Conservatoire (France), Master of Music from Indiana University, Doctor of Musical Arts from Peabody Institute/Johns Hopkins University and Juris Doctor from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Angelin Chang performs at major concert venues worldwide, as well as for the U.S. Department of State, United Nations Women's Organization, and World AIDS Day in New York for the United Nations before the Secretary-General. As the first Artist-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., she helped develop and launch the Arts for Everyone initiative, resulting in the Center’s provision of free daily public performances for all. Dr. Angelin Chang is Professor of Music (Piano) and Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at Cleveland State University, where she is also Professor of Law at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
Betty Yu is a NYC based multi-media artist, filmmaker, cultural worker, media educator, and longtime community organizer. For over 4 years, Betty managed the national network, Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a project of the Center for Media Justice. Her documentary “Resilience” about her garment worker mother fighting against sweatshop conditions, screened film festivals including the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival. Betty's interactive multi-media installation, “The Garment Worker” was part of a 5-week art exhibit in Chinatown in 2013, and featured at Tribeca Film Institute’s Interactive 2014. She was a 2012 Public Artist in Residence at The Laundromat Project, collecting oral histories and teaching media making to Chinese immigrants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Betty is currently on the Board of Directors of Deep Dish TV and Third World Newsreel, two progressive media arts centers that distributes and exhibits social issue films. For 7 years, she served on the board of Working Films, an organization that builds partnerships between nonfiction media-makers and social justice groups. She is currently seeking her MFA in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter College.
Chrislene DeJean has been creating mischief since birth and continues to by hacking social justice issues at Intelligent Mischief. She is a Boston native passionate about community organizing, dance, and life. She’s currently serving on several Boston local intiatives: Mattapan United Steering Committee, Mattapan Cultural Arts Development, and African Repertory Theater. She really loves to dance, if she hasn’t already mentioned it, especially afro-diasporic dances. Her current work at Intelligent Mischief looks at creativity and the arts as a tool that everyone has to build social movement as well as supporting artists who do social justice work. One example of that work is their Black Body Survival Guide project, that crowd sources satirical survival tips on anti-Black racism.
Con Christesen is a community artist in a storefront studio. It is the home of the community collabARTive, an arts initiative for men who are homeless/ in transition since 1999. She is the co- founder of Project BUD, an international arts research and residency exchange, senior fellow of the Community Arts Training Institute, a public art consultant, and adjunct professor of communications at Webster University. In arts collaboration, we discover/rediscover our voice. "We reach out, tell you who we are, where we have been," says Con. "There is no one single story of a life. There are many chapters to be told with innovation and innocence. Homelessness, destabilization, and displacement. We all experience them in varying degrees. Human resilience and art process allow us to work together, write new stories, find our way home." From past poet laureate, W. S. Merwin: "If we did not believe in homecoming, we could not bear the day."
Dan Godston teaches and lives in Chicago. His chapbooks include Splice Poems (Argotist Ebooks) andSonic Textures Triptych (Linguiscope), and his writings have appeared in RHINO, Chase Park, After Hours, Beard of Bees, Drunken Boat, Horse Less Review, Requited Journal, Certain Circuits, Sentinel Poetry, and other publications. He also directs the Borderbend Arts Collective. www.dangodston.com
Denise Griffin Johnson lives in Baltimore City. She identifies her natural talents and passion as an organizer and advocate. Having worked in numerous professional capacities in both non-profit and government from coordinator to manager, Denise has also served on numerous boards and advisory groups that focus on community and family. Her professional work is in the fields of Human Service and Community Development. In 2007, as a Project Director with Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation, while working with an OSI Artist Fellow, Denise encountered the powerful tool of Arts and Culture in community revitalization. As a result, a grassroots cultural organizing effort was formulated to continue and define stories, beliefs, history, and values that formulated CultureWorks. Denise is a member of Alternative Roots, co- founder of CultureWorks, and a graduate of Coppin State University with a Master's of Science in Family Counseling.
Jayeesha Dutta is an artist and movement builder who coordinates the Gulf Future Coalition bringing together 75 organizations across the Gulf Coast to restore, protect and defend communities, cultures and ecosystems in the aftermath of the BP oil drilling disaster. Jayeesha's artistic mediums include photography, painting, Theater of the Oppressed and participatory praxis. She is an expert participatory and creative facilitator with a strong knack for program development, cultural organizing and campaign strategy. She possesses a Bachelors of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. Jayeesha conducted graduate studies in Social Justice and Equity in Education at San Francisco State University and is completing a Masters of Science in Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans.
J/Xon Henry grew up in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountain and attended the University of Richmond for BAs in International Politics & Studio Art. Xe traveled to NYC to received a MA in Arts Politics from NYU|Tisch. J/Xon is now pursuing an MFA in Studio Art from James Madison University. Along this journey, xe has received fellowships and grants from xer respective universities, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Mildred's Lanes, and Arts Council of the Valley. They currently organize/create/manage/live the Old Furnace Artist Residency in Harrisonburg, VA.
Julia Terry is a visual artist, multicultural educator, and Program Director at ArtWell, a Philadelphia arts education non-profit. Inspired by her research of adolescent rites of passage traditions, she founded The Art of Growing Up, an arts program that celebrates and supports youth as they come of age. Since marrying her work with ArtWell, she has developed, facilitated, and directed multidisciplinary programs, integrated arts curricula, and gender-responsive workshops in partnership with diverse communities and schools throughout the Philadelphia Region, serving more than 8,000 youth, future leaders and change-makers. Julia has presented at conferences including the Massachusetts Art Education Association and Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning, and is the recipient of an Art and Change Award from Leeway Foundation. She feels most inspired when collaborating with fellow artists and educators and believes deeply in the power of art and creative youth development to build community and strengthen Philadelphia’s schools and youth.
Julianna Ross is an artist enabler and historic preservation advocate who found her idea of Utopia working from Warren G. Magnuson Park, a decommissioned Navy base in Northeast Seattle. As a long-time volunteer and now executive director of Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange (SPACE), her efforts, in concert with the community, have been instrumental in saving several historic buildings in the 350 acre park and securing a permanent home for arts and culture. Now able to operate with a roof over their heads, Julianna seeks to connect artists, the arts, and the community in creating a vibrant culture of inclusion, participation and joy. She holds a journalism degree from the University of Colorado and is excited to launch a new low-power FM radio station from the park, which will work with the area’s youth and other nearby communities in storytelling, music programs, reporting and job training (KMGP-LP, 101.1).
Mattice Haynes listens with an empathic heart while unleashing the collective wisdom within diverse groups. She supports communities in a process of co-creating their desired shared future by connecting dialogue to action. Co-designing and facilitating inclusive dialogues which lift up community voices in visioning, planning, and decision-making is the core of her work at The Art of Community. Mattice's 15-year career is rooted in asset based community development, collective impact, community engagement, diversity and inclusion, dialogue and deliberation, and whole person facilitation. Whether facilitating a 500 person town meeting in New York City during a mayoral transition, coaching resident groups in some of Atlanta's most historic neighborhoods, or managing an international biodiversity summit in Brussels, Mattice is propelled by love, freedom and justice.
McKenzie Wren is a storyteller, singer, dabbler collage artist, and a community builder currently working as executive director at a community center in Clarkston, GA, a small town in metro Atlanta termed the most diverse square mile in the US. An arts advocate, McKenzie works to develop artistic and economic capacity with newly arrived refugees and long time Americans. She uses participatory and asset-based community development methodologies and has a deep commitment to breaking down barriers caused by differences in religion, race, gender, sexuality and class. Her commitment to bringing art and energy into gatherings has garnered her a reputation as an Energizer and On-Demand Ritualist! With a meandering life path comprised of complementary medicine, public health, community building, change making, variety performance art, and spiritual exploration, McKenzie loves envisioning new ways for humans to come together to be their best selves. She lives in Atlanta with her clown husband, Reuben (aka Ruby the Clown), and two sons, Elijah and Devon.
Naomi Ross, a South Florida native, is dedicated to acting as a change agent in communities. During her final year of undergraduate studies at University of Miami’s School of Architecture, she discovered her true passion for being an engaged citizen. Since then, Naomi has grown her skills as a young leader while actively volunteering with a variety of community-based organizations, as well as by serving three terms as an AmeriCorps member with local nonprofits addressing neighborhood revitalization, food equity, and academic service-learning. She is an avid connector with a personal mission to creatively develop initiatives that spark conversation on diversity, encourage collaboration, and inspire action for positive social change. Naomi is currently pursuing a master's degree in Community & Social Change at UM, and recently founded a civic engagement initiative called ‘Celebrate Diversity Miami,’ which envisions a united greater Miami communitywhere residents from all backgrounds feel accepted, connected, and valued.
Natalie Crue is a cultural producer, international Hip-Hop connoisseur, multimedia producer, nomad, and activist. Natalie has collaborated internationally with individuals, cultural establishments, NGOs and arts networks in France, Cambodia, UK, South Africa and beyond. Natalie sees and utilizes arts and culture as a vehicle for social change - spearheading various cultural initiatives around the globe including BeyondWalls, an innovative, participatory global platform that uses street art/graffiti and Hip-Hop to foster civic engagement, spark dialogue, and empower communities. Currently, she co-curates #CultureFix, a weekly chat on twitter and global collaborative network of cultural producers and change makers who use culture and the arts to impact communities around the world.
You can find her on Twitter @NatalieCrue and at www.nataliecrue.com
Valerie J. Amor is an architectural professional, real estate broker, published author, columnist, educator, public artist and action oriented visionary from Fort Lauderdale Florida. Helically rejuvenating at the intersection of art and science under the umbrella and on the life raft of sustainability, she is deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change particularly on under resourced, under represented communities. Collaborating extensively with local city Community Redevelopment Agencies, CRA and organizations, she has received grants from the Broward County Cultural Council and the National Endowment from the Arts striving to provide an empowering platform for the community voice to be heard. "Feed Your Creativity, Art to Heart", "A Railroad Runs Through It" and "Building Bridges" are deep community engagement initiatives intended to catalyze awareness of local, organic food, healthy lifestyles, historical accuracy and for communities to identify and build upon their strengths. She is the founder of her architectural firm, Drawing Conclusions and co-founder of Growing Broward; promoting a local food system. Serving on local and national boards and organizations, she is committed to promoting socio-economic and environmental justice.
Founding Cohort of Cultural Agents- 2014
Beth Grossman is a socio-political artist, who sees the visual as a way to create community dialog. Her art and participatory performances are comfortable points of entry into the ongoing dialog about interpretation of history and religion, our place in nature and the power of social beliefs. Grossman has collaborated internationally with individuals, communities, city halls, corporations, non-profits and museums in the US, Russia, China, Italy and Germany. She uses art and participatory performance as a creative force to stimulate conversation and focus attention on the environment, history and civic engagement – all aimed at raising awareness, building community and encouraging public participation. The public conversations prompted by Grossman’s artwork and advocacy consistently capture the interest of the mainstream media. This includes coverage by Chinese and German television and feature stories in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Miami Herald, Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Atlanta Journal Constitution, National Public Radio’s California Report, and on KRON4 television news. Her visual art has been extensively shown at venues including: The de Young Museum in San Francisco, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City, The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the Minnesota History Center, The Nat’l Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
Carissa Samaniego is a visual artist and non-profit professional living and working in rural Minnesota. A creative community leader, Samaniego strongly believes in the transformative power of arts and culture to mobilize and engage people of all ages as an active force for social good. Samaniego’s professional artistic practice includes exhibiting sculpture in the Midwest and beyond, as well as collaborative community-based projects and events. She is the recent recipient of a McKnight Individual Artist grant from the East Central Regional Arts Council and has also received grants and awards from Forecast Public Art, Starseed Foundation, and St. Catherine University for her work and research. Since 2010, Samaniego has served as the Education & Program Coordinator at Franconia Sculpture Park, a 30-acre outdoor exhibition of more than 100 contemporary sculptures and artist residency program for emerging and mid-career artists world-wide. In this role, she has expanded Franconia’s arts learning programming, improved the administration of the artist residency program, and developed customized programming in partnership with many community organizations. Samaniego has a passion for working at the intersection of art and community, and plans to to this work long into the future.
Dave Loewenstein is a muralist, writer, and printmaker based in Lawrence, Kansas. His mural projects across the U.S. from Flagstaff, Arizona to New York City are characterized by deep collaborative engagement with communities in an effort to shape stories that address the challenges and aspirations of local people as they strive to represent themselves and their neighborhoods. Dave’s spraypaint stencil prints, which are often introduced to the public on the street through his affiliations with the Occupy movement and others, call for justice, condemn brutality and expose hypocrisy. They are also in many public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. In Kansas, he is one of the founders of the Lawrence Percolator community art space, the co-author of the award winning book “Kansas Murals,” and the creator of the state’s first course focused on community-based art practice “Roots and Practice” at Washburn University. Dave’s recent documentary project, “Give Take Give” supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation, considers the social network and gift economy that has developed out of a trash dumpster near his apartment.
Fabiola Torralba is a dancer, educator, artist, and activist. After several years of community organizing and cultural work in San Antonio, two bachelor’s degrees, and some ethnographic fieldwork, she decides to return to her first love. Fabiola then trained under Erica Wilson-Perkins at Palo Alto College receiving an Associates of Arts in Dance with additional training under the Urban Bush Women, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and David Grenke of ThingsezIsee’um Dance/Theater among others. She collaborates frequently with local artists, schools, galleries, and non-profit organizations on multi-disciplinary, educational, and performance based projects. Previous works include, En Rumbo, entre nos, Zapatos Viejos, This Bridge We Call…, XVoto, Me Gustas Cuando Callas, and nos(otros) ¡somos!, a full length bilingual multimedia performance that presents multiple facets of the immigration experience by first voices. Fabiola utilizes movement as a vehicle for community building, civic engagement, and social-cultural awareness. She enjoys exploring interdisciplinary collaborations and the intersections between art, story, and action.
Hayden Gilbert is an actor, composer, producer and designer from Akron, Ohio. Hayden graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelors Degree and High Honors in Theater and Politics, and is now entering his second year at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to study Entertainment Law. Hayden is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of RTC Studio, a production team comprised of designers, artists, and engineers dedicated to forming new and innovative large scale events with other creators. His producing has received recognition from a number of publications including The Huffington Post, Decoder Magazine, and NME. In addition to installation pieces and large multimedia events, Hayden founded The Catalyst Project, a series of events dedicated to showcasing playwrights, filmmakers, and visual artists under the age of 30. His music has been heard in television and film projects like A Gifted Man (CBS) and Song One (starring Anne Hathaway). Through the innovative use of technology and conceptual design, he hopes to merge art with everyday life. Hayden strives to not just create events but experiences.
Jess Solomon is a cultural worker invested in tapping into our collective imaginations, getting a lot done in small spaces and working across sectors, specifically where she calls home: Washington, DC. Jess works alongside residents, artists, community leaders, executives and entrepreneurs to design experiences that bring creativity to the work of social change, deepen partnerships and build sustainable organizational infrastructure. She wears many (stylish) hats but among them she's the Mad Scientist at Art in Praxis, a social practice “laboratory” blurring the lines between making, performance, cultural organizing and community engagement, a 99u Fellow, a member of Alternate ROOTS and a budding strategic doodler. Jess is currently planning DC's inaugural Anna Julia Cooper Day and practicing Spanish for a summer arts/activism residency in Palomino, Colombia. She tweets too: @jesssolomon
Kara Roschi is an interdisciplinary artist in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her B.F.A in Intermedia from Arizona State University in 2007, and is currently enrolled back at ASU in pursuit of her Masters Degree in the same concentration. She co-owns Practical Art, a craft art and gallery space in Central Phoenix, founded in 2008, that serves as a hub for over 100 local artisans and the surrounding community. Roschi is also certified as a docent at the Phoenix Art Museum, and particularly enjoys conversations with the public around the Contemporary Collection. Her artistic investigations center on the organization of both information and community, and how they conflate. Her research and production processes borrow from the fields of performance, social practice, and web media. Notable projects include the Holgas Performance Series (2008), The Red Dress Tours (2011), her collaboration with the Staring Down Andy project (2012), and, of course, the next project. She is excited to add Cultural Agent of the USDAC to this paragraph.
Lynden Harris is the Founder and Director of Hidden Voices, whose mission is to “challenge, strengthen, and connect our diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice.” During her decades of work as an artist facilitating community, Lynden developed the Hidden Voices Process, a participatory workshop model based on the four E’s: Engage, Empower, Envision, Enhance. Project components include scripts, performances, audio tours, interactive exhibits, walking tours, critical mapmaking, print and digital media. The 2014-2017 Hidden Voices projects include No Difference: Ending Sexual Violence; At Ease: Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide, and Central Lives: Exploring Life on Death Row. Currently the Visiting Artist in Residence at Duke University, Lynden also writes about community voices, the arts, and social justice issues for the News and Observer family of papers. She lives on a farm in North Carolina, a state that has been home to her family for more than 300 years.
Michael B Schwartz earned a BFA in painting in 1988 from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He was recruited by painter Robert Colescott to the University of Arizona where he earned his MFA in 1991. His practice includes public art, murals, paintings, drawings, writings and teaching arts with projects that balance a participatory process, rich products and multi diminutional outcomes with sustained impacts. He has worked with numerous organizations ranging from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Fleisher Art Memorial to the International Council of Adult Education, Audubon Society and Prescott College. He’s a recipient of the Puffin Foundation and Art Matters Fellowships, a participant in in the MICA Community Arts Convening & Research Project, a founder of the Tucson Arts Brigade (AZ), Newark Arts Alliance (DE) and a participant in the historic meeting of community-arts leaders at the White House in May 2009. His most recent public artworks can be seen in Menlo Park and the Woods Memorial Library in Tucson, Arizona. Current projects includes arts based violence prevention projects and youth development initiatives that integrate Arts, Social Service and Social Justice outcomes.
Roseann Weiss is Director of Community & Public Arts at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission (RAC). She oversees the Community Arts Training (CAT) Institute - an innovative program centered on the principle that art can be an agent for positive social change. Roseann also leads RAC’s artists’ support programs, public art strategies, and creative community initiatives which include identifying resources for new projects. She promotes RAC’s position that community-based arts, public art, and creative capacity building are integral in developing dynamic, vibrant cities. In 2010, she organized the first At the Crossroads: A Community Arts & Development Convening. In 2012, a second convening in conjunction with Rust Belt to Artist Belt attracted about 300 participants to St. Louis from as far away as Dublin and Singapore. Before joining the RAC, Roseann served as Director of Programs and Education at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. She has over 25 years of experience in arts leadership in both nonprofit arts institutions and gallery settings. She has curated contemporary art exhibitions, served on public art commissions, panels, juries, committees, and boards as well as lectured about contemporary art and community.
Yolanda Wisher is a Philadelphia-based poet, singer, musician, and educator. Wisher was born in the historic Germantown section of Philadelphia and raised in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where she was named the county's first poet laureate at the age of 23. She is a Cave Canem graduate and received an M.A. in Creative Writing/English from Temple University and a B.A. in English and Black Studies from Lafayette College. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, and she regularly performs her poetry in collaboration with musicians. In 2013, she co-edited the international anthology Peace is a Haiku Song with Sonia Sanchez. Her first book of poetry, Monk Eats an Afro, will be published by Hanging Loose Press in May 2014. As a teacher, radio host, and founder/director of the Germantown Poetry Festival, Wisher has utilized poetry as a conduit for community-building and youth empowerment for over fifteen years. She currently serves as Director of Art Education for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and lives in Germantown with her husband Mark Palacio, a doublebassist, and their son Thelonious.