The six United States Regional Arts Organizations (US RAOs) are excited to announce the 2023-24 National Leaders of Color Fellows. Fifty-four leaders from communities across the country will participate in a transformative eight-month leadership development experience designed to establish multicultural leadership in the creative and cultural sector.
Curated by WESTAF and in partnership with the five other US RAOs, the no-cost program takes place online and will provide fellows with access to specialists in the field, strategic learning objectives determined to deepen thought on anti-racist and culturally-oriented leadership practices, and national-level network and cohort building.
An expansion of WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color program, which has been partnering with and supporting 100+ BIPOC arts and culture leaders since 2010, the Leaders of Color Fellowship (LoCF) and its mission have become a national endeavor with collective support and commitment from the collaborative of the six Regional Arts Organizations.
The 8 fellows from Arts Midwest’s region will convene virtually with other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) arts leaders from across the country in this 8-month program to learn and develop their skills as leaders in the field. Selected based on their promise or experience with equity-aligned work, the cohort members range in age, race, gender identity, geography, and experience.
Upon completion of the program, participants transition to alumni status and have opportunities to collaborate with the RAO in their region as advisors, funding panelists, and/or other professional capacities. Read on below to meet Arts Midwest’s selected cohort members for this year’s program, and learn more about the full cohort on the Leaders of Color Network website.
Npaus Baim Her
St. Paul, MN
Npaus Baim Her, an educator and storyteller, is known for her work in chronicling the narratives of Asian Americans. In 2023, she spearheaded “A Reflection on Hmong Culture & Language” with Public Art St. Paul as part of the Sidewalk Poetry Workshop series. Her digital zine, “Hmong American Experiences during the Pandemic,” was published in 2022 in collaboration with the Hmong Museum.
From 2019 to 2021, Her’s works were featured in #MinneAsianStories by the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, “Staring Down the Tiger” by Pa Der Vang, and The Summit Avenue Review. Prior to these, she served as an instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth where she taught College Writing and worked as a Writers Consultant for the Writing Workshops.
Currently, Her holds the position of arts & culture coordinator at XIA Gallery & Cafe, where she champions Asian and BIPOC artists. She recently launched SEA (Southeast Asians) Us Write & Design, a youth program aimed at nurturing the creative, entrepreneurial, and leadership abilities of Southeast Asian youth. This initiative, funded by Coalition Asian American Leaders’ Sparks Fund Leadership and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota’s Women Innovators Program, led to the publication of the magazine, “Hmong Palette: Our Uniqueness in Bloom” in collaboration with the youth group.
Eagle Butte, SD
An enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. During the Indian Relocation Act, his Até (father) was sent to California, where Chief was born and raised — and where he learned the art of graffiti, which inspired him to experiment with multiple disciplines, mediums, and styles. Over the years, he has participated in multiple art shows and graffiti jams, taught graffiti workshops, designed and sold his personal art, and worked as a commissioned artist. He continues to enjoy painting graffiti and creating multimedia art.
In 2016, Chief moved back to South Dakota to dedicate his life to the betterment of the Lakota people. For two years, he worked as a youth mentor with Generations Indigenous Ways, a year-round Lakota youth camp that strives to educate and empower Lakota youth with the knowledge and skills their ancestors possessed, incorporating those traditional ways and teachings with western science methodology. He also has worked with the Oglala Lakota Cultural & Economic Revitalization Initiative, which hosted the Indigenous Wisdom & Permaculture Skills Convergence in Slim Buttes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
As CRYP’s arts manager, Chief is responsible for leading operations at the Waniyetu Wowapi Institute & Art Park, a multidisciplinary, community-based initiative that seeks to strengthen the connection of Lakota youth and the Cheyenne River community to traditional culture and life ways through art. The institute incorporates the Lakota Art Fellowship program, the Teen Art Internship program, the award-winning RedCan invitational graffiti jam, the free public art park, and a variety of community classes and events. Chief has also led CRYP’s Food Sovereignty, Native Wellness, and Lakota Culture Internship.
Spring Green, WI
Anna Gonzalez, the community engagement coordinator at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, holds a bachelor of arts degree in English from Lawrence University. She also earned a masters of arts in Shakespeare Studies from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon and a masters of fine arts in Shakespeare in Performance at Mary Baldwin University.
Gonzalez has an extensive background in theatre production, having worked as a wardrobe supervisor at Glimmerglass Opera, American Shakespeare Center, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Prior to her return to the Midwest, she spent eight years in Las Vegas, Nevada, teaching first-grade students reading skills and the importance of kindness.
Her work is fueled by a commitment to promoting inclusion, representation, and belonging in theatre, aiming to make it more accessible for historically marginalized audiences. Gonzalez is passionate about fostering collaboration to unite audiences around the shared experience of theatre.
Adonis Holmes is a Chicago-based writer, performer, and comedian. Holmes graduated from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and has been featured in several sketch shows throughout the city, including Chicago Sketch Fest and the Best of Annoyance sketch show. He was a featured performer and writer for the Second City’s Black Excellence Revue, ‘Dance Like There Are Black People Watching’ and is currently acting as understudy for the Mainstage production of ‘Don’t Quit Your Daydream’. Along with Co-founding and directing the All-Black improv show ‘Satirical Race Theory’, Holmes is a member of Devil’s Daughter Improv, the improv trope The Mermaids, a 2022 Bob Curry Fellow, and is the Co-Artistic Director of the iO Theater.
Timothy L. Johnson currently serves as the commercial support coordinator at Kenan Advantage Group. He has a technical degree in radio and television broadcasting, as well as an associate of arts and a bachelor’s degree in communication. Johnson brings a wealth of experience in social media, marketing, communication, management, and customer service to his role.
Nikki Kirk is a leadership development and cultural equity practitioner, with diverse experience as a facilitator, curriculum developer, grant administrator, project manager, and advisor. She has lived and worked across the country with arts organizations in the nonprofit, government, and higher education sectors. She currently serves as the Director of Community Impact & Investment with the Indy Arts Council, where she leads a portfolio of grantmaking investments to artists and arts organizations. She centers her work on expanding equitable investments that strengthen the overall impact of thriving arts communities.
Nikki earned a master’s degree in arts, festival, and cultural management from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she researched the impact of programming at the intersection of arts and social justice. She received a bachelor’s degree in political linguistics from Pitzer College in southern California, where she affirmed her interests in and the significance of language and identity, human rights, and cross-cultural understanding.
Nikki’s previous work experiences include Americans for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Berklee College of Music, El Sistema USA, and the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, among others.
Cedar Rapids, IA
Chastity Williams, the founder of Spotlight Our Youth and drama director at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids, was born and raised in Illinois. She moved to Iowa for her studies in Theatre Arts at the University of Iowa and is currently enrolled at the University of Dubuque for Elementary Education. Her aim is to merge her experience in the arts with education.
Williams held the title of Miss Northeast Iowa 2023, using her platform to underscore the importance of arts education. She champions her initiative, “Spotlight Our Youth – Educate, Engage, and Emerge in Arts Education,” believing that the arts can help children discover their voice and develop leadership skills.
Her work has spanned across the Englert Theater in Iowa City and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Illinois. She has also performed in productions throughout Iowa and other states. Currently, Williams serves as a teaching associate and drama director in the Cedar Rapids School District. An anime enthusiast, she is eager to learn how to foster inclusivity in the arts through her fellowship.
L Sam Zhang
L Sam Zhang, author and illustrator of the children’s book series “The First Chinese Festivals,” brings to life historical tales and legends that date back thousands of years. Zhang’s goal is to make these stories accessible in English, enhancing the enjoyment and understanding of these festivals throughout the year. The vibrant books aim to help children gain a better comprehension of themselves and the diverse world they inhabit.
Born in Shanghai and raised in Buffalo, NY, Zhang holds a bachelors in Biology from Cornell and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Michigan. She dedicated a decade to branding and outreach for startups, research institutes and nonprofits on the West Coast. Currently residing in Michigan, Zhang serves as the executive director of the Kalamazoo Chinese Academy, a nonprofit organization committed to offering Chinese language and cultural experiences to youth from various backgrounds.