Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators: Announcing Cohort 2 Fellows from New York City

Cohort 2 of Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators (ALACI) has launched! Our fellowship kicked off in New York City early this year, and we are excited to announce our amazing fellows who have been selected for this program.

ALACI NYC Faculty-BW-new

This fellowship is engaging rising leaders of color in an 18-month program that will strengthen their skills and capacity to facilitate adaptive processes within their organizations and their communities. Through seminars, individualized executive coaching, peer learning, mentorship and in-community practicums, fellows will develop competency in key areas of adaptive leadership including: systems analysis; managing innovation teams; responding to conflict; conducting productive conversations; process facilitation, innovation frameworks; behavioral and organizational change and more. Read more about the fellowship here, and read the fellows bios below.

On the heels of New York Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) research and survey results that show that New York’s cultural institutions lack the diversity of our city, we are proud to announce Cohort 2 as an important opportunity for diversifying the talent pipeline in our sector. EmcArts realizes that our arts field is stubbornly mono-cultural, with leaders of color experiencing additional barriers in gaining access to professional support and resources. The New York City cohort of the Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators is designed to help address this gap.


At the first ALACI seminar in NYC, our fellows were accompanied by senior members from their organizations. Photo: Anushya Badrinath


Fellows and their colleagues pick out cards for a Visual Thinking Strategy session. Photo: Anushya Badrinath

 Meet our New York City Fellows:


Peggy Cheng

Peggy Cheng, Director of Development, Danspace Project

Peggy H. Cheng is the Director of Development at Danspace Project where she has been on staff since 2000. During Peggy’s tenure the organization has undergone a successful leadership transition, and launched several new initiatives including the Choreographic Center Without Walls, its PLATFORM programs, and a partnership with Wesleyan University’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance. She has served on funding panels for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs, and New York State Council on the Arts, as well as on selection panels for Newsteps (Chen Dance Center), Fresh Tracks (New York Live Arts), and curated Food for Thought (Danspace Project) programs. She received a B.A. from Vassar College (Dept. of English), a M.A. in Dance & Dance Education from the NYU Steinhardt School, and from 1994-2000 taught in a variety of educational dance and theater programs for children and youth.


Toya Lillard, Executive Director, viBe Theater Experience

Toya joined viBe as its Executive Director in January 2012, bringing more than 15 years of experience in arts education. She has directed plays, developed curricula, led advocacy efforts and implemented innovative teaching artist training programs both in and out of our city’s schools. As a theater teaching artist, Toya has worked extensively and passionately with teenage girls in New York City. Toya is a native Houstonian from an artistic family who grew up with both theater and music. After graduating from Houston’s prestigious High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Toya attended Vassar College and further developed her interest in arts education, particularly in the use of theatre to help youth address issues relevant to their personal and civic development. Prior to joining viBe, Toya served as Director of School Programs for The New York Philharmonic’s Education Department, where she helped to develop its nationally recognized School Partnership Program. In addition to leading viBe, Toya is also an adjunct professor at CUNY CityTech, where she teaches Black Theater. Toya holds a B.A. from Vassar College, and an M.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.


Robyne Walker Murphy, Director, Membership Development & Engagement, National Guild for Community Arts Education

Robyne Walker Murphy is the Director of Membership Development and Engagement at the National Guild for Community Arts Education where she develops, prioritizes, and implements plans for membership recruitment, retention, and engagement. She began her post in April 2015. Prior to the Guild, she served as the Director of the DreamYard Art Center for seven years. During that time she helped lead the organization through the development of arts and social justice programming and community engagement initiatives at the DreamYard Art Center, located in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Robyne oversaw the expansion of program offerings from three programs serving high school students to 16 programs multi-discipliinary art and college readiness programs for young people in grades PreK-12. Under her direction, DreamYard Art Center was recognized by the White House as one of the top 12 out of school programs in the nation. Robyne accepted the awar d from First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony. She created and co developed the Social Justice Pedagogy Team, a professional development series aimed at establishing important tenets of social justice education; creating common language across programs; exploring best practices and learning from veteran social justice educators. Robyne has conducted workshops about art and social justice at conferences and institutions across the country. Robyne is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University where she majored in English with an emphasis in African American Literature. She
obtained her MFA in Acting from the University of Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program. She resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, Tarik Murphy and her son, Ras.

Gary Padmore

Gary Padmore, Director of Education & Community, Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Gary Padmore joined the team at Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and is responsible for developing and overseeing its education and community programs, partnerships, and performances. His broad experiences have led him to schools and community organizations throughout the five boroughs and Long Island. As an administrator, he has worked to deepen partnerships to ensure sustainable and high-quality music based programs. Before OSL, he served as Associate Director of Programs at Midori & Friends, providing skill-based music instruction and enrichment programs throughout New York City. Padmore previously held the position of Interim Education Director for Brooklyn Philharmonic, was a teaching artist at Queens Museum, American Composers Orchestra and Police Athletic League, and was an adjunct lecturer at Queens College. A trumpet player and native New Yorker, Padmore has a bachelor’s degree in music from Queens College, a master’s degre e from Mannes College, and an advanced certificate in music education from Queens College.

Sophie Nimmannit

Sophie Nimmannit, Joker, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC

Sophie Nimmannit is a Theatre of the Oppressed Joker and Program & Operations Director at Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC). They began working with TONYC in 2011, and have facilitated Forum Theatre Troupes at the Ali Forney Center, Staten Island Youth Justice Center and Housing Works, as well as workshops in TO. Sophie has been a Brooklyn-based theater artist and physical theater performer since 2003, focused on ensemble-devised original works, and occasionally playing with puppets.


Priya Sircar, Senior Consultant, Lord Cultural Resources

Priya Sircar first took the stage at age three and has crafted a life in the arts ever since—as a producer, performer and administrator. As a senior consultant with Lord Cultural Resources, Priya has managed planning processes engaging cultural, business, education and civic leaders, as well as hundreds of everyday citizens, in developing plans that aim to achieve each community’s or organization’s cultural goals and potential. Priya has worked with the City of Chicago, Wyoming PBS, Houston’s Memorial Park, Boston Jewish Film Festival, Artpace/Linda Pace Foundation, New York Public Library/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Norfolk Botanical Garden, Fort Monroe, The Blanton Museum of Art/The University of Texas, and Brooklyn’s Billy & Company among others. Priya’s experience as a practicing artist informs every project. A dancer-choreographer, actor and former musician, Priya has founded dance troupes, performed around the U.S. and directed movement for the theatre in New York. Her speaking engagements include MuseumNext, World Architecture Day, the annual conferences of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) and American Alliance of Museums (AAM). She also has produced narrative and documentary shorts that have screened around the country, including at SXSW. Previously, as a grantmaker at the global public health organization the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now LIVESTRONG), Priya managed the provision of community- and capacity-building funding and services to organizations throughout the U.S. Priya started there in development, liaising with donors, cultivating prospective donors and helping to establish the Founder’s Circle. Priya holds a M.A. in Arts Administration from Columbia University and a B.A. in the interdisciplinary Plan II Honors Program at The University of Texas.

Mi Ryung SOng

Mi Ryung Song, Director of Strategic Initiatives, League of American Orchestras

As Director of Strategic Initiatives, Mi Ryung Song is responsible for artistic programs, constituent relations, Knowledge Center activities, and special projects at the League of American Orchestras. She also serves on the board of Decoda, an innovative chamber ensemble based in New York City and has previously held positions in fundraising at the San Francisco Symphony and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, artistic administration at the New York City Opera, and community engagement at The Juilliard School. As a League Orchestra Management Fellow, she managed marketing, operations, auditions, and special projects for The Cleveland Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Baton Rouge Symphony, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. Mi Ryung is a lifelong tennis player, amateur rock climber, and performing arts omnivore. She earned her B.M. in flute performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Meredith Suttles

Meredith Suttles, Director, Institutional Giving, Theatre Communications Group

Meredith Suttles is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), professional performing artist and currently serves as the Institutional Giving Officer at Theatre Communications Group (TCG) in New York City. Meredith has an extensive combined 10+ year background in Creative and Performing Arts in the areas of performance, development, planning, and fundraising. She joined TCG in 2013 and is responsible for managing TCG’s fundraising and relationships with foundations, corporations, and government entities. Prior to her role at TCG, Meredith served as the Director of Institutional Giving for the New York City Opera.


Kirya Traber, Faculty and Coordinator, Collaborative Research Studio, The New School, School of Drama

Kirya Traber is a nationally awarded writer, performer, cultural worker. She received her MFA in Acting from the School of Drama at the New School College of Performing Arts. Kirya currently works as a Faculty Coordinator at the School of Drama, is the resident Process Mentor for, Naked Angels’ Issues Project Lab, and is an Artist-in-Residence with, Lincoln Center Education’s Shelter Programs. Kirya is the recipient of the California Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Robert Redford’s Sundance foundation award for Activism in the Arts, Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Certificate of Recognition, an Astrea Lesbian Writers Fund award for Poetry, and is a former judge for the LAMBDA Literary awards in LGBT Drama. Kirya is an alumnus of the 2010 VONA/Voices retreat for writers of color, and the 2012 EmergeNYC intensive at the Hemispheric Institute, was a 2014 Space Grantee at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and is an alumnu s of Urban Bush Women’s 2015 Summer Leadership Institute. Kirya has toured the United States and Canada as a poet and solo performance artist, and her written work can be found in the pages of, Other Tongues, an anthology by Inana Press, and in her 2009 chapbook, black chick. She has worked as an arts educator with youth and adults, in school and community based settings, and within the juvenile justice system.


Brandon Vazquez, Assistant Director, Bloomingdale School of Music

With over 15 years of experience as a teaching artist and as an arts administrator, Brandon Vazquez brings a unique combination of experience to Bloomingdale School of Music. The son of blue collar parents and an alumnus of Bloomingdale, Mr. Vazquez learned about the value of financial aid, as he himself was the beneficiary of such aid in his study of music. Mr. Vazquez, who began playing the trumpet at age twelve, attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art while also furthering his musical studies at the Juilliard School, Bloomingdale School of Music, and at Queens College. At Hunter College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music, Mr. Vazquez pursued a diverse path of study ranging from jazz history, jazz theory, and performance to astronomy, geography, and philosophy. An alumnus of Bloomingdale’s Music Access Project (MAP), Mr. Vazquez returned to the school as the Director of MAP and Concert Manager in 2001, teaching music theory, coaching chamber music, advising students, and managing all faculty concerts. Mr. Vazquez was promoted soon after to Development Associate in 2005 and eventually to Director of Development is 2008 where he was responsible for leading Bloomingdale School of Music’s advancement program and for developing and maintaining active and productive relationships with board members, donors, and administration. Most recently Mr. Vazquez was promoted to Assistant Director in 2013.


Nadia Williams, Director, Parsons Scholars Program and Assistant Professor of Diversity & Inclusion, Parsons School of Design, Parsons

Nadia is Assistant Professor of Diversity & Inclusion at Parsons School of Design and Director of the Parsons Scholars Program, an art & design college access program for NYC public high school students from low-income backgrounds. She believes that increased access to arts institutions requires explicit and intentional work. This philosophy is at the the core of all of her work, including events such as WE ARE HERE, a public intervention of Kara Walker’s installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Nadia is a graduate of the Parsons BFA Fashion Design department who began her career designing for large corporations and later created an independent brand while living in Mexico. She co-established a methodology and pedagogy used by the Mexican organization Fábrica Social which centers indigenous women artisans as designers. Nadia is a member of NYCoRE and is faculty advisor of Sisters Art Salon and The New School DREAM Team.

We are grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, American Express and the New York Community Trust for making this cohort possible.


Read more about ALACI on our program page here.


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