Romona Riscoe Benson
Romona Riscoe Benson is the Director of Corporate and Community Impact at PECO, in Philadelphia, PA. In her role, she develops, leads, and executes strategic corporate and community giving programs, as well as reputational positioning initiatives. Prior to her position at PECO, she served as president and CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia and executive director of the PCVB’s Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress.
She produced the city-wide PECO Energy Jazz Festival and the first city career fair focused on careers in hospitality for urban school students in the area. Her passion is shown through 25 years of experience in non-profit, hospitality, meetings and conference management, arts management, and public sector work. Benson is the recipient of the 2023 Eliza Shirley Women in Leadership Award for exemplifying Salvation Army pioneer Eliza Shirley’s dedication to service, community, and faith.
Donna Walker-Kuhne is an award-winning thought leader, writer and strategist for community engagement, audience development, and social justice. She is President of Walker International Communications Group, a 30-year-old boutique marketing and audience development consulting agency. She provides consulting services to numerous arts organizations throughout the world and has generated over $22m in earned income.
She is also Senior Advisor, Diversity, Equity Inclusion at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Currently her portfolio includes social justice initiatives and Equity Diversity Inclusion workshops. She is a veteran of over 22 Broadway productions and her nonprofit clients include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York State Council on the Arts, and Seattle Theatre Group. She is co-founder of Impact Broadway, a multicultural project that engaged over 900 students as audience members for Broadway with the goal to empower this community to be economic drivers of new audiences for the Broadway Theater district. Walker-Kuhne is a lecturer and keynote presenter for international arts conferences in Moscow, Russia; Blomfontein, South Africa; and Australian Arts Conferences. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and Columbia University. Walker-Kuhne is the recipient of 50 awards including the 2019 League of Professional Theatre Women Rachel Crothers Leadership Award. Her first book, Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community, was published in 2005 and she just completed her second book, Champions for the Arts: Lessons and Successful Strategies for Engaging Diverse Audiences. She has a weekly blog, Arts and Culture Connections, that explores cultural efforts to expand diverse audiences.
Lake Placid, NY
James Lemons is the Executive Director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts (LPCA). Under his guidance, the LPCA has undergone a revitalization of presenting programs, arts education activities, and visual arts programs. In 2016, Lemons oversaw the creation of Gallery 46, a visual arts gallery and information center in Lake Placid. Representing sixty-five artists, Gallery 46 sells art with most proceeds being distributed to artists through commissions.
Lemons is Chairman of the Board of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. Lemons has served as a panelist/moderator for the Association of Presenting Arts Professionals, Autopistes Circus Network, PEA Southwest, and the Adirondack Nonprofit Network. He has served as a grant reviewer for the New York State Council of the Arts, CNY Arts, and the Essex County Arts Alliance. Prior to his tenure at LPCA, Lemons served as the General Manager of Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota and as the Associate Artistic Director and Communications Manager for WaterTower Theatre in Addison.
Margaret G. Vanderhye
Margi Vanderhye served as the Executive Director of the Virginia Commission on the Arts from 2014-2018. She is a former Member of the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly representing the 34th District. Currently, Vanderhye is the Chair of the Virginia Health Care Commission. She is the Co-Founder and Director of EduTutorVA, a nonprofit that pairs at risk K-12 students with college students training to be teachers for high impact academic tutoring.
Vanderhye has served as a member of the Virginia Commission on Historic Statues in the U.S Capital; as a former presidential appointee to the National Capital Planning Commission; as a member of the Advisory Board of McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) and former Co-Chair of the MPA-ArtFest; and as an honorary board member for ArtsFairfax.
St. Thomas, USVI
Vernon Araujo received a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication, concentrating in Fine Arts and Marketing, from Boston College. Besides Mid Atlantic Arts, Araujo serves as a Board Member for the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts and Junior Achievement USVI. Music and the arts have always been a part of his life. He is passionate about community service and support to local performers, producers, and artists as they develop their careers. Araujo is currently the Director of Philanthropy & Community Relations for Alpine Securities in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Jessica Ball is the Director of the Delaware Division of the Arts where she oversees all aspects of managing a state agency committed to supporting the arts and cultivating creativity to enhance the quality of life in Delaware. Jessica brings a collaborative, progressive, transparent approach to arts leadership and administration. Adept at creating and sustaining partnerships across private, government, and creative sectors she facilitates initiatives that expand access to the transformative power of the arts and arts education.
Ball is dedicated to strengthening the cultural sector and growing the creative economy and workforce. Before becoming the Director of DDOA she was the Executive Director of the Delaware Arts Alliance. There, Ball developed sector wide strategies to advance arts and culture. She worked with cultural, community, and civic leaders on policy and funding initiatives to ensure that the creative sector is vibrant. Ball graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design with dual master’s degrees in Historic Preservation and Landscape Architecture. She has a Bachelor of Architecture from Florida International University. She spent the first part of her career in the fields of design and architecture. Ball is a visual artist, artisan, and co-founder of Handmade Modern Accessories–a Women and Black-owned creative business. Her diverse background gives her perspective on the importance of arts and culture’s positive impacts on communities. She volunteers on the Delaware Fund for Women’s Young Founders Committee and the Delaware MillSummit Planning Committee.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Lora Bottinelli is the owner and principal of Bottinelli.co, offering specialized consulting and advising services. Previously, Lora served as the Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) for five years, including celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2023.
Prior to joining NCTA, Lora served as the Executive Director of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl from 2006-2018. As folklorist there, she established the Lower Shore Traditions Folklife Program, co-directed the American Folklife Center Field School in Crisfield, Maryland, supported the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Mid Atlantic Water Ways program, and designed the Pass It On: Cultural Traditions of the Eastern Shore K-12 Curriculum and Activity Guide. She was responsible for major capital upgrades to the museum, including the planning and opening of the John A. Luetkemeyer Sr and Thomas F. Mullan Jr, Legacy Center.
Lora served two terms on the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) in leadership roles including the Executive Committee and Treasurer, and partnered in developing Imagine Maryland: A Renewed Strategic Plan for the Arts 2014-2019. As chair of the Advocacy Committee, she worked in coordination with the Maryland Citizens for the Arts to secure the Special Fund for Preservation of Cultural Arts. She served on the MSAC’s Diversity Committee, working to engage people of diverse backgrounds throughout the state. A common thread in her success has been the building of partnerships at the local, regional, state and national levels.
Lora played a key role in creating the coalition that culminated in the City of Salisbury’s successful application to host the National Folk Festival, and later guided that event and other major traditional arts events through the pandemic in her role at NCTA. In 2022, under her leadership at NCTA, National Treasures was launched – bringing NEA National Heritage Fellows to National Parks throughout the country. Lora is a passionate folk arts advocate and a founding member of the Living Traditions Network.
Kim Chan is the Deputy Director at the Brooklyn music incubator National Sawdust. She has worked extensively in New York City and Washington, D.C. in multiple art forms including poetry, music, theater, dance, arts education, and literature at PEN America, Harlem School of the Arts, and Paul Taylor Dance Foundation. She served on the New York Dance and Performance Awards Bessies Committee for six years and was a dance and performance curator and producer for 18 years at Washington Performing Arts in D.C. She is a board member for Ping Chong + Company and Pick-Up Performance Co(s).
Carlos Ruiz Cortés
San Juan, PR
Carlos Ruiz Cortés has served as the Executive Director of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP) since 2017. He was elected by unanimous decision of the ICP Board of Directors to implement and oversee public policy execution regarding arts, culture, and heritage.
He oversees over two-hundred employees and contractors, over thirty-five historic buildings, two sub-corporations, and two theaters. Ruiz Cortés, a 2021 Emmy Awardee, supervises the progress of eighteen divisions of the State ranging from the National Art Collection of Puerto Rico to Folk Arts. Specifically, he oversees Building Improvement and Conservation; Support for the Arts; Cultural Promotion in Municipalities; Fine Arts Division; Popular Arts Division; Music and Theater Division -including 2 theaters; Built Historical Heritage; Parks and Museums Division; Archeology Division; Publications, Sales, Marketing, and Magazine Division; General Archive of Puerto Rico; and National Library of Puerto Rico.
Valerie Gay is deputy director and chief experience officer for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where she oversees public programming, community engagement and family programming and the combined front line and security team. She has previously held senior and executive positions, including executive director of Art Sanctuary in Philadelphia, assistant dean for Institutional Advancement for the College of Education at Temple University and vice president and portfolio manager with PNC Advisors where she managed investment portfolios of high-net-worth individuals and family trusts. A serial entrepreneur since 2006, the companies and organizations Gay leads have at their core improving the lives of others, and includes an arts nonprofit, business consulting and a lifestyle apparel brand. Gay is also an active civic leader, serving on the board of directors for several Philadelphia and New York-based nonprofit organizations.
Anita Gonzalez (Ph.D.) is a professor of performing arts and African American studies at Georgetown University and a co-Founder of their Racial Justice Institute. She was recently Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and a Professor of Theatre at the University of Michigan where she promoted interdisciplinary and intercultural performance initiatives. Her edited and authored books are Performance, Dance and Political Economy (Bloomsbury), Black Performance Theory (Duke), Afro-Mexico: Dancing Between Myth and Reality (U-Texas Press), and Jarocho’s Soul (Rowan Littlefield).
Her essays about multicultural and international performance appear in Black Acting Methods, The Community Performance Reader and the Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theatre among others. Gonzalez has completed three Senior Scholar Fulbright grants and been a resident artist at Rockefeller’s Bellagio Center in Italy. Gonzalez extends the reach of her scholarship through public engagement. She created a massive open online course “Storytelling for Social Change” that has reached over 40,000 learners to date. A new open access course, “Black Performance as Social Protest” is available on the FutureLearn digital platform. Gonzalez also directs, devises and writes theatrical works. Her innovative stagings of historical and cross-cultural experiences have appeared on PBS national television and at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, The Working Theatre, Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, New York Live Arts, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and other national and international venues. Gonzalez is a member of the National Theatre Conference, Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, League of Professional Women in Theatre, the Players Club NYC, and the Dramatists Guild.
Silver Spring, MD
Juanita Hardy has a passion for fostering healthy, thriving, and equitable places to live, work, learn and play through her work with individuals and businesses. Hardy has over 45 years of business experience, including 31 years with IBM, where she retired in 2005, and nearly a decade in the real estate industry. She has over 35 years of experience in the arts as a nonprofit leader, trustee, and patron of the arts.
Hardy held leadership positions with IBM that spanned software development, systems engineering, and management consulting (1974-2005). After retiring from IBM, Hardy founded Tiger Management Consulting Group, an executive coaching and business consulting services firm. Hardy’s client portfolio comprises for-profit and non-profit organizations, including Right Management, a global human capital development firm since 2006. Hardy has been associated with Urban Land Institute, a global non-profit committed to responsible land use, since 2016. She has served ULI in various advisory and consulting roles, including its Senior Visiting Fellow for Creative Placemaking. Hardy was former Executive Director of CulturalDC (2013-2015), a nonprofit that provides space for artists and creative placemaking services for real estate developers. She co-founded Millennium Arts Salon, an art education initiative, in 2000.
Hardy was among the 2022 honorees by The Phillips Collection, a prominent Washington, DC museum, for her work in the arts. She was recognized as a Minority Business Leader by the Washington Business Journal (2010). She is an accomplished writer and public speaker. Her articles and essays have appeared in magazines and journals in the U.S. and abroad. Recent writings include an essay, “Development Without Displacement” in Volume 3 of The Place Economy published by Hoyne based in Australia; ULI’s 2022 Publication, “Creative Placemaking: Recommendations from and Impact of Six Advisory Services Panels;” and ULI’s 2020 Publication “Creative Placemaking: Sparking Development with Art and Culture.” Between 2016 and 2023, Hardy has written a sextet of articles on creative placemaking in Urban Land magazine.
Hardy’s board affiliations, in addition to Mid Atlantic Arts, include board member for Mosaic Theatre Company and chair of the board for International Arts and Artists, both based in Washington, DC. Hardy is an avid collector of fine art and, with her husband, has acquired many works on paper, canvas, sculptures, and African art.
Nicholas Hawkins is an attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP were he assists clients with intellectual property management, private equity and venture capital financing, mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate governance. Hawkins was previously an in-house attorney for one of the world’s largest sports brands where he worked closely with the product and marketing teams, advising on various intellectual property issues facing the brand including working with A-list celebrities and athletes.
In addition to his work as an attorney, he is active in a range of community and professional organizations, including serving as the current Vice President of the Board of Directors for Baltimore Clayworks, and serving as the former Chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the Maryland State Bar Association. Hawkins has also served as interim Executive Director and Art Law Clinic Director for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a Maryland nonprofit that provides legal services to creatives throughout the state.
New York, NY
Mara Manus is the Executive Director of the New York State Council on the Arts. Manus has also served as executive director of the Public Theater in New York City as well as a program officer at the Ford Foundation. Previous roles include Director of Playwrights of New York, Executive Director of The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Founding Director of the Arthur Miller Foundation and Southampton Arts Center. Manus was the founder of the management consulting firm, Manus + Co, where she oversaw the launch of cultural organizations and provided non-profits with leadership and organizational development support. Manus holds a B.A. from Stanford University.
John McEwen serves as the Executive Director of New Jersey Theatre Alliance, a service organization for the state and region’s 42 professional theatres. Under his leadership the Alliance completed a successful endowment campaign, and has lead several initiatives benefiting the state’s entire arts sector including The Creating Change Network, a resource to educate and support the field as it becomes a more just and inclusive community; the Arts and Culture Administrators of Color Network, providing networking and educational opportunities for multi-generational leaders of color; and the Cultural Access Network Project, an educational and networking resource as the field makes its programs and facilities accessible to artists and patrons with disabilities. McEwen is a trustee of ArtPride New Jersey, the Fund for New Jersey Blind, and New Jersey Center for NonProfits.
Kevin O’Brien is the Head Theatrical and Concert Rigger at MetLife Stadium and the IZOD Center in the Meadowlands, NJ. He also freelances as a theatrical technical director and in 2002, was elected President of Theatrical Stagehands Local 632 IATSE. O’Brien has served on the board of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts since 2008 and has served as its 1st and 2nd Vice Chair, is Chair of the Arts & Education Committee, and is on the Executive and Planning Committees.
He is a Commissioner on the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, serving as the Arts Council Ex-Officio to the Commission. He has been honored with the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce 2014 Man of the Year award, three State Legislature Resolutions for service, and the New Jersey AFL-CIO Labor Leader of the Year award. O’Brien was appointed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council to advise state leadership on economic matters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He currently serves as the New Jersey Legislative Director of the NY/NJ 10th District IATSE.
John Strickland is the President and a Shareholder of Maynard C. Smith Construction Company, Inc. in Charleston, WV. He is a former board member of the West Virginia Commission on the Arts where he also served as Chair. Other board service includes the Sunrise Museum, Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, Inc., and Edgewood Summit, where he also held the role of President. He currently serves on the board of the Huntington Museum of Art.