Presenter Bios

Rootwork: Grounding Community Arts Education Beyond the Pandemic


Bios are listed in order of appearance in the session schedule.


Calida Jones (she|her) is an accomplished musician, educator, and social justice & arts advocate who has taught and performed throughout the world. Her career highlights include roles at Music Matters, the Hartford All-City Youth Orchestra, El Sistema, and the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra and select honors include a Grammy nomination for the Music Educator Excellence Award, the Father Thomas H. Dwyer Humanitarian Award, and the 2018 Connecticut Arts Hero Award. Today, Calida is the Director of Engagement at The Hartt School, Board Clerk for El Sistema USA, and the President of the Connecticut Arts Alliance. Passionate about intentional, purposeful teaching and community engagement, her personal mission is to ensure that children with limited resources have access to music. Having begun musical training at the age of three, she holds a BFA in Violin Performance from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in Violin Performance and Suzuki Pedagogy from The Hartt School of Music.


Karla Estela Rivera (she|her) is a writer, performer, activist, and arts advocate who has leveraged her gift of storytelling ​to uplift and create opportunities for, with, and in underserved communities​. She is the Executive Director of Free Street Theater and a company member of 2nd Story in Chicago. Karla has served non-profit organizations for over a decade in roles spanning from teaching artist and youth worker to systems-level leadership in public affairs. She recently served as the co-chair of the Illinois Fine Arts Indicator work group which developed the nation’s first weighted accountability measure for the arts as part of the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act plan. She is a native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and holds a BA from Columbia College Chicago with graduate studies at New York University.


Joaquin Ortiz (he|him) is the Director Innovation at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). He specializes in learning design, visitor engagement, and technology strategy. At MOPA, he has overseen the implementation of technologies and strategies to better engage underserved communities and visitors. His work in shaping strategies to engage and educate the public has been presented at national and international conferences, including the California Association of Museums, Western Museums Association, National Art Education Association, and PRAGMA in Sapporo, Japan. He serves on the board of directors for the California Association of Museums and is the co-chair of its Strategic Action Committee which guides diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. He holds a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in learning design and technology from San Diego State University.


Adam Sherlock (he|him) is an educator, musician, visual artist, filmmaker, writer, and mentor living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has counseled and mentored youth in the state's care for over twenty years. The last eleven of those years have been as a teaching artist, mentor and administrator at Spy Hop Productions, which began with his work on Sending Messages— the only youth-produced podcast created by young offenders in incarceration facilities, in the country – and has since brought his skills as a visual artist, animator, and puppeteer to those in foster care. Today, as the Director of Community Partnerships & Learning Design, Adam oversees youth media programming with underrepresented and indigenous communities across Utah; this work includes key partnerships with the MacArthur foundation, the National Science Foundation, Utah State University, and the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.


Rorri Burton (she|her) is a community-raised interpreter who hails from Chicago, where she began learning American Sign Language at an early age. After graduating college with her degree in Deaf Education, she taught in school districts around the country before beginning what she assumed would be a temporary foray into a career as a full time ASL Interpreter. Twelve years and five cities later, Rorri has worked as an interpreter in a variety of settings, including Video Relay Service, vacation cruises, Hollywood sets, operating rooms and theme parks, among others. Her current project involves coordinating a group of Black, Indigenous and Latinx protestors who are providing pro bono ASL access to rallies and protests in support of the Black Lives Matter liberation movement.


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Awet Moges (he|him) dreams of a world full of diverse human beings with complete access to stories of ancient mythologies and futuristic science fiction technology. As a writer-artist with more than 15 years of experience, he’s worked all sorts of jobs in both blue and white collar sectors, from manufacturing to video game art. He has participated in various organizations such as the NBDA and has won several awards of recognition (House of Representatives, Cities of Long Beach, Signal Hill and Los Angeles, and the California Assembly Council people of Mayors). He is currently teaching ASL at CSULB. His first book, Pantheon: Heterotopia is the first among its kind: the first graphic novel by a deaf person and by an Eritrean American, and the first of a brand-new genre: panfuturism.


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Jade Bryan (she|her) is an award-winning filmmaker and activist. She has been producing, directing, and writing films for over 25 years. Her bio is too lengthy to list in this little box. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Jade believes in promoting inclusion, visibility, and positive representation about Deaf Talent who identifies as POC or Black on television and film. She spearheaded the #DeafTalent Movement in 2012, to spread awareness on social media and the Hollywood industry. Jade is currently developing dramedy television series of her own with Hollywood executives. 


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Tanisha Russell (she|her), originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, began her dance training at the age of three. In Trenton, New Jersey she studied multiple dance genres including jazz, hip-hop, tap, modern, and ballet. Tanisha is a graduate from Gallaudet University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and Dance Minor. She is currently continuing to further her education in Maters in Fine Arts. Her goal is provide a platform for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals to express their talent. After experiencing the benefits of using music and dance as personal therapy, Tanisha aims to inspire others to incorporate music and dance into their lives as positive outlets for self-expression. Driven by passion, Tanisha is excited to follow the path of music and dance into her future, wherever it leads her.


Shaun Leonardo (he|him) is a Brooklyn-based artist whose multidisciplinary work negotiates societal expectations of manhood, namely definitions surrounding black and brown masculinities, along with its notions of achievement, collective identity, and experience of failure. 

His performance practice, anchored by his work in Assembly—a diversion program for court-involved youth at the Brooklyn-based non-profit Recess—is participatory and invested in a process of embodiment. Shaun is a recipient of support from Creative Capital, Guggenheim Social Practice, Art for Justice, and A Blade of Grass, and has served as a Visiting Fellow at Pratt Institute as the School of Art. Shaun’s exhibition The Breath of Empty Space is currently staged at MASS MoCA and travels to The Bronx Museum early next year. He received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.


Hailing from Nigeria, Adaku Utah (she|her) is a teacher, organizer, healer, and ritual artist committed to cultivating movements that are strategic, sustainable, mutually nourishing, and center radical social change for gender, reproductive, race, youth, and healing justice. Adaku is the co-founder and co-director of Harriet's Apothecary, a healing village led by Black Cis Women, Queer and Trans healers, artists, and organizers committed to living out Harriet Tubman's legacy of centering wellness and safety as movement building strategies to galvanize communities, deconstruct legacies of trauma, and shape generative transformation. She is also the Organizing Director at the National Network of Abortion Funds. Adaku teaches with BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity) and Generative Somatics, and proudly serves on the board of Soul Fire Farm working to end racism and injustice in the food system. In her spare time, she loves nerding out about astrology, herbs, erotica, and sci-fi.


Annie Meek Montgomery (she|her) is the Director of Education for Lifetime Arts where she leads the design and delivery of education efforts and facilitates trainings for a wide range of practitioners including teaching artists, librarians, arts organizations, and funders. She has presented on Creative Aging at several national conferences, including those of the National Guild, Grant Makers in the Arts, the American Alliance of Museums, the American Alliance of Theatre Educators, and Live On. Annie is a theatre artist (actor, director, and playwright), a teaching artist with over 20 years’ experience, and a faculty member at The New School College of Performing Arts. She was awarded the New York City SPARC grant in 2014, and SUCASA Grant in 2017. She received her bachelor’s in acting from Boston University and her master’s in educational theatre from New York University.


Born to parents on the faculty of Virginia State College, Mary Moore Easter (she|her) was as immersed in their artistic and intellectual interests as she was in the limitations segregation imposed on her Black world. Her career as an independent dancer/choreographer and Founder and Director of Carleton College’s dance program overlapped with writing as a Cave Canem Fellow where all inhibitions to her African American languages were flung aside. Easter is the author of four poetry books including the forthcoming Free Papers: poems inspired by the testimony of Eliza Winston, a Mississippi slave escaped to freedom in Minnesota in 1860 (2021). She has been widely celebrated— her awards include: Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Bush Artist Fellowship in Choreography, McKnight Awards in Interdisciplinary Arts, The Loft Literary Center’s Creative Non-Fiction Award, and residencies at Ragdale and The Anderson Center. Easter holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence and an M.A. in Music for Dancers from Goddard.


Paula Yamilet Alvarado Ortega (she|her) is currently enrolled at Phoenix College where she is working on her Criminal Justice and Theatre degrees. She is the youth co-founder of RE:FRAME Youth Art Center, a transforming artistic collaborator at Rising Youth Theatre, and an alumni of the 2019 National Young Artists Summit (NYAS). She loves and admires NYAS because it brings communities together from different forms of arts and leadership from across the country. Within all her work as an artist and community organizer, she focuses on completely shifting the way young people are included and valued. Alongside her peers, she ignites new norms where young people are recognized as leaders, compensated for their time, and work alongside adults equally.


Indi McCasey (they|them) is a Creative Education Consultant and Executive Director of the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area working at the intersection of arts, education, and community health with non-profit organizations and school districts throughout the country. Indi's social practice is rooted in their experience as a teaching artist, performer, program administrator, and arts advocate. Their creative work has been funded by the California Arts Council, Horizons Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, and Zellerbach Family Foundation. As a member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership, Indi continues to co-develop a shared practice framework based on the values of youth leadership, racial justice, and collective action. Indi holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard and has served as a faculty member of the Alameda County Office of Education's Integrated Learning Specialist Program and Harvard’s Project Zero Classroom. 


Barbara Mumby-Huerta (she|her) is an artist and community organizer— both passions stem from her upbringing in California's rural Central Valley: as the youngest of five raised by a single mother, the arts became an integral part of her life while her passion for social justice was deeply influenced by her family's Native American heritage and work as migrant farmers. In the philanthropic field, Barbara has designed equity-based grants programs for early childhood education, workforce development, social services, and arts & culture. She is a current Open Society Racial Equality Fellow and is developing a tool kit to support BIPOC communities in identifying, assessing, and dismantling white supremacy in public art. Barbara holds bachelor’s degrees in studio arts and native American studies from UC Berkeley and master’s degrees in museum studies and business administration from John F. Kennedy University. 


As a mixed-media, installation artist, painter, and curator, Cynthia Tom (she|her) identifies as a
Cultural Surrealist, Visual Artist, and Community Curator with over thirty years of work in the
making. She produces art workshops to help womxn unravel from layers of chronic heartache,
and her art and curatorial projects are recognized for themes of healing, empowerment,
feminism, and centering communities of color. Cynthia’s most recent exhibitions include the
Smithsonian’s What is Feminist Art? and with the San Francisco Legion of Honor, De Young
Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, amongst others. She is the Founder of A PLACE
of HER OWN, an arts-based healing program and is the Board President Emerita of the Asian
American Womxn Artists Association.