From left top: Rebecca Graves, A. Alanda Gregory, Anika Kowalik, Clara Martinez, Mi Shen, Jorge Silva, Chelsea Steffes, and André Zhang Sonera.
Today, the six U.S. Regional Arts Organizations announced the 2022-2023 National Leaders of Color Fellowship cohort. Fifty-three fellows from communities across the U.S. were selected to participate in this fellowship to build on the legacy of creating an intersectional, intergenerational, and multiracial movement on behalf of cultural equity across the field.
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.
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.
Meet the Midwest Cohort
Becca Graves (she/her) is a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal citizen. Becca is currently the Executive Director of the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. Becca has previous experience as the Executive Director for the Boys & Girls Club of the Leech Lake Area. Becca has also served on the Leech Lake Tribal College Board of Trustees.
A. Alanda Gregory (she/her) is a Writer, Planner, Certified Life Coach/Life Mentor, Community Advocate and Speaker. Co-Owner of Tri-Phoenix Group, LLC dba Tri-Phoenix Media, & Co-Founder of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Leader & Professional Collective. Alanda is a wife and the proud mother of 2 HBCU college graduates, 3 entrepreneurs with their own brands of Catering, Styling and Brand Merch.
Alanda saw it was necessary to create a brand to assist creative professionals with their own identity development. Alanda has a degree in Business administration and a certified Life Coach, she is a self-taught entrepreneur & entertainer open to understanding the needs of the creative professional. Her creative vision is helping other people (as well as herself) to thrive to become better versions of themselves. Alanda incorporates Emotional Intelligence and Life Coaching Education in her services to enhance client experiences to unlock their own potential. Alanda uses her past experience as a corporate professional to create services tailored to others in the art/culture, entertainment and small business circuit. Primarily Alanda’s focus is BIPOC Owned businesses and BIPOC professionals, she believes the BIPOC population is the most underserved and under-appreciated citizens in the United States. As a Creative Professional and community advocate, Alanda considers herself a Master Networking Media Maven.
Anika Kowalik | Milwaukee, WI
Anika Kowalik (they/them), the Associate Educator of Teen Programs, coordinates the Teen Internship program and works directly with teens. Kowalik is a Black and Queer Multidisciplinary Artist residing in Milwaukee. They hold a BFA in Printmaking from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. In their practice, they address creating safe space, representation and acknowledgment of disadvantaged communities, and programming encompassing these themes. They have a myriad of ties within communities that MAM directly serves as a result of years of interfacing with these communities as an artist. They’ve championed intersectional, anti-racist, and holistic care practices for local organizations such as Cactus Club Milwaukee, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Kowalik completed training from the Clinical & Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin for a Childhood Development certification in early 2022 and has experience in public health evaluation as a Project Assistant for Jael Solutions LLC. The multiplicity and richness within their background brings a needs-based approach to teen programs reflective of equity-driven approaches to education. Overall, they want teens to see themselves in art careers by providing a fulfilling experience for all involved.
Clara Martinez (she/her) is the Dance Director at Everett High School in the Lansing School District. A lifelong dancer with a passion for community organizing, Clara knows that students and community members are the experts- everyone else is in service to them. She is a proud union representative and advocates for students and educators in the Lansing Schools Education Association.
Prior to Everett, Clara served as a Teaching Artist and as Artistic Director of Clara Lucia Y Compania, which received the Arts Council of Greater Lansing’s 2016 Community Artist Grant. In 2017, Clara co-directed Daringly Real Crunchy Moves and premiered the work ““love in the time of trump”“ at Kristi Faulker’s ASSEMBLE Women’s Work Festival. In 2020, Clara won Best Dance Instructor in Lansing’s City Pulse Top of the Town Contest.
She is Chair of Michigan Dance Council, on the Board of Directors for All Of The Above Hip Hop Academy and Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan. She was appointed by Lansing City Council to serve on the City of Lansing Arts & Culture Commission to represent the 1st Ward. In 2021, Clara was recognized as a Rising Leader in the Arts and selected for the Michigan Arts & Culture Council’s’ Rising Leaders 2021-2022 Cohort Program. Clara is pursuing her Masters of Social Work (MSW) in Organization & Community Leadership at Michigan State University. Clara received her Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) in Dance from The Ohio State University.
Mi Shen (she/her), is a resident of Ohio and the senior professional working for a Fortune 100 company. She came to the United States from China to pursue higher education and received an MBA degree in the 90’s. As an active community player, Mi’s passion is to create the eye-opening cultural opportunities for people to experience Chinese culture traditions through the performing arts and education. In her volunteer-based leadership role, she has not only collaborated with the Chinese artists to explore the geographical boundaries through fusion music, and executed these programs in the public events for over a decade, but she also partnered with the local middle school in Cincinnati to initiate the annual program – “Connecting kids to the world”, started in 2012 and highly received by over thousand students of 6th grade in 8 consecutive years. Since the COVID-19 difficult times, the mission of the Alliance of Chinese Culture & Arts USA, led by Mi has extended to commit to bringing Asian communities together with the hopes of building a more inclusive and prosperous community through the power of arts. Mi believes that adhering to the cross-regional and cross-cultural cooperation can help us to break down barriers and build a sense of trust between people through the power of arts. This is the mission entrusted to us by this great era.
Prior to joining Northwestern University as the Managing Director for The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, Jorge Silva (he/him) was the Managing Director for the renowned experimental theater company, The Neo-Futurists, leading the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic utilizing revitalized infrastructure. Prior to working with The Neos, he was the Producing Coordinator for the Goodman Theatre serving as the producing liaison for community engagement projects and the curator for artistic programming. He is currently a Neubauer Civic Scholar and MBA Candidate at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a 2024 Global Arts Management Fellow at the University of Maryland (DeVos Institute).
While based in Washington, DC, Silva was a performing artist and administrator for the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater and was one of the founding teaching artists for their DCPS in-school arts education program, ‘Tools of Discovery.’ Much of Silva’s work, however, is identified with The Neo-Futurists beginning as a 2016 recipient of the Artists of Color Scholarship. Jorge Silva is also an artistic affiliate with Teatro Travieso (Wooster, OH).
Outside of theatre, Silva has worked with the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund and The Posse Foundation: Chicago in their respective student mentoring programs. He was also a Lecturer and graduate projects advisor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Writing Program. Notably, Silva was a featured speaker at Latinos Progresando’s flagship community event, MEX talks  and remains a member of the event’s Host Committee.
Chelsea Steffes (she/her) is an emerging arts professional from the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND. Steffes has a Bachelor of Arts in Heritage and Museum Studies and in Pre-professional Studio Art from Concordia College, Moorhead. She has worked at the Plains Art Museum since 2018. Working in the Midwest, Steffes prioritizes inclusion and community building in her work through her many positions at the Plains. Whether it be teaching classes as a Teaching Artist, participating in local community outreach events, or just being a friendly face to welcome anyone who enters. She strongly values making the arts an inclusive environment to foster connection building.
As a mixed race Filipino American in the northern Midwest, Steffes acknowledges the difficulties and nuance in diversity and inclusion. While still learning, Steffes wants to ultimately build a creative and inclusive community for herself and others like her seeking a home in the Midwest.
André Zhang Sonera (he/him) serves as the Deputy Director of Operations and Strategic Partnerships for the Indiana Arts Commission. Originally from San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, André received his Master’s in Public Affairs in Policy Analysis from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. His previous work experiences at the White House, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations, the Office of the Indiana Lt. Governor, and the City of Indianapolis Mayor’s Office have nurtured his passion for public service and government.
In his spare time, he proudly serves as a Big Brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters and sits on the IndyHub Foundation Board of Directors.