We’re Growing! Announcing New EmcArts Team Members

EmcArts is very pleased to introduce several stellar additions to our team. As our work for seeding innovation and adaptive change with individuals, organizations and communities continues to grow, we have been listening carefully to the needs of our partners, collaborators, program participants, team-members and staff.

Through listening, we identified a need for increased internal skills and leadership that reflects the racial, cultural, ethnic and gender diversity that we see in the fields we serve. We’ve undertaken an intentional effort to increase our own diversity and cultural competency by supporting internal learning and taking steps towards integrating an equity lens in our organization. In November of 2014, we accelerated this process by bringing Melinda Weekes from RaceForward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation to facilitate a day-long equity training for us. In this workshop, we identified a few high-leverage “choice points” — areas of decision-making that could impact our whole system — and a big choice point was a deliberate effort to bring on seasoned leaders of color to our team.

Since then, we’ve also identified key organizational growth areas for ourselves — in Process Facilitation, Communications, Operations, and Board Development. We’re now proud to announce the following new hires in each of those areas. Their bios are listed here, as well as their responses to two questions we asked them as they prepared to join our team.

Wesley Days, Jr

Process Facilitator, EmcArts


John Wesley Days, Jr is an educator, multi-media artist, facilitator, and musician. His areas of expertise includes: group process facilitation, intercultural communication, global project management, and conflict mediation with a focus on creating conditions to uproot systemic causes of conflict over the long term.

From his work with the United Nations to his contributions to numerous global non-governmental organizations, Wesley generates opportunities to reveal the complexity of conflict and to help people navigate an uncertain world. His work is motivated by the need for greater cultural understanding and cooperation in the world.

His most innovative work was the nine country exhibition, Destiny 2000, which modeled how artists could infuse cultural and artistic expression into dialogues of resistance against oppression, in order to create a confluence of energy. Wesley is also the Brazil Country Director of The Lion Shade Group.

As EmcArts’ Process Facilitator, John Wesley designs and delivers process frameworks, content and theory about adaptive change and innovation, and supports arts leaders, organizations and networks in embedding and operationalizing adaptive skills.

Who and what inspires you to work towards innovation and adaptive change in the arts?

I am deeply inspired by the work of Rebecca Rice at the Living Stage Theater in my hometown of Washington, DC, and the work of Brazilian Theater Director Augusto Boal, who created Theater of the Oppressed. Rebecca was a performer, teacher, playwright and anti-racism activist for over 30 years, and I had the great honor of participating in community theater projects that she designed and led. After her passing, her work continues to inform my practice. And I’m inspired by how Augusto Boal’s immersive experiences enable people to analyze root causes, explore solutions, and celebrate the power of arts as an engine of social transformation.

What do you wish you could see more of in the arts and social sectors?

I wish I could see more spaces in the arts for social interventions that challenge the legitimacy and normalization of dominant ideology in order to encourage more egalitarian social relations. I wish there were more places to challenge how we define ourselves, and more flexible and dynamic facilitation styles that that help participants reconnect with their bodies, explore systems leadership, and develop their own consciousness. I’d like to see more perceptual and conceptual strategies that move us past outmoded or inflexible concepts of power and resistance.

Nayantara Sen

Communications Manager
NayantaraSen_0111Nayantara is a writer, strategic communications practitioner, social justice educator and network-builder. She began her career in community organizing for immigrant rights, and then joined the non-profit sector as a professional social justice trainer. As the Network Associate at RaceForward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, she wrote and delivered training curricula, and consulted with a wide range of organizations on the integration and operationalization of equity strategies and anti-oppression frameworks. Since the mid 2000’s, Nayantara has trained thousands of non-profit and philanthropic sector professionals, students, educators, administrators, funders, grassroots activists, labor organizers, public health and social service workers in race, gender and class analysis.

In addition to her training practice, where she integrates popular education and Theatre of Oppressed methodologies, Nayantara has also curated dynamic, interdisciplinary programs at the intersection of arts and social justice. Last year, she produced community dialogues on art and environmental trauma at The Foundry Theatre, and a public programs series for the award-winning oral history project on mixed-race identity politics, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

She is currently an M.A candidate at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, where she studies Creative Writing, Postcolonial Literature and Social Movement Theory. She has a B.A in English Literature and Asian-Pacific American Studies from Michigan State University. She is an Advisory Board member of Youngist.org, and a Board Member of CAAAV, a 30-year old pan-Asian community based organization that builds power for low-income immigrants and refugees in New York City.

As the Communications Manager at EmcArts, Nayantara leverages all her experiences with storytelling, organizational change, social equity and network-building. She works closely with the entire EmcArts team to document, connect, and amplify stories and lessons of innovation and adaptive change from program participants, as well as from the larger arts and cultural field.

Who and what inspires you to work towards innovation and adaptive change in the arts?

“I’m a fiction writer, and I love to read and write stories of deep learning, inquiry and transformation. I’m inspired by authors and poets who imagine new possibilities for how art and storytelling lives in the world – how art enlivens, sustains, heals and builds adaptive capacities and resilience. I’m especially inspired by the work of immigrant authors (like Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali and Edwidge Danticat) who “create dangerously” and propose that the connections between art, experimentation and the survival of our communities are close, so much closer than we realize.”

What do you wish you could see more of in the arts and social sectors?

“Although I’ve been working to mobilize people for social justice, I find that the social sector is still lacking viable spaces where people can be truly creative, and where artistic practice is valued for it’s ability to transform complex situations. I dislike the siloes that split cultural organizing and artistic production from policy, organizing, and education. I wish there were more spaces for risky work that contaminates rigid boundaries in order to build real solutions to inequity.”

Maura Cuffie

Operations and Program Coordinator


Maura Cuffie is a new New Yorker committed to understanding and exploring change processes in various forms. Her study of sociology, images, and identity politics in Philadelphia led her to the non-profit arts field. Before joining the team at EmcArts, she worked with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program where she developed a deep desire to work in the intersection of social change and the arts. She carries out multi-disciplinary, socially-engaged and dialogic practices through The Free Breakfast Program, an arts organization that is inspired by the Black Panthers’ legacy of revolutionary humanism. She is currently a Create Change Fellow with The Laundromat Project.

In the fall of 2013, she began working with EmcArts to support the implementation of our first National Innovation Summit for Arts and Culture. She now coordinates all office operations including finance, human resources, and office management and serves as a direct support to Managing Director, Melissa Dibble. At EmcArts, Maura is able to feed her desires to learn about change-making in action and to support and leverage the strengths of her team for innovation and adaptive change.

Who and what inspires you to work towards innovation and adaptive change in the arts?

There are so many practitioners, artists, scholars who push my thinking forward just by their existence. I’m thinking particularly about Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses and Open A.I.R. Artist Services Program at the Queens Museum. Both programs/projects exist within a somewhat traditional framework, a 501c3, a museum, an arts institution, but manage to transform the role of an artist into something far from traditional. Artists in these programs are seen as cultural innovators and social activists who make major shifts in the landscape towards equity.

What do you wish you could see more of in the arts and social sectors?

I would love to see more examples of interdisciplinary practice done well. Specifically within the realm of socially engaged art, which seems like an area that is inherently interdisciplinary but needs to move beyond representation and into action. In addition I believe we need more stories championed by those directly affected by change! The arts and social change sectors have plenty of practitioners with the right “chops,” but I’d love to see us pass the microphone.

Emil Kang

EmcArts Board Member


Emil Kang is the Professor of the Practice at University of North Carolina’s Department of Music, where he co-teaches courses in artistic entrepreneurship and the creative process. He also serves as University of North Carolina’s first Executive Director for the Arts, a senior administrative post created to help unify and elevate the performing arts at the University. In his first season, Kang introduced the University’s first major performing arts series, inaugurated in conjunction with the grand re-opening of the University’s main venue, Memorial Hall. After only three years, the University was invited to join the national consortium of Major University Presenters.

Prior to coming to Chapel Hill, Kang served as President and Executive Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) where he spearheaded a $125 million capital and endowment campaign, the largest in the Orchestra’s history. Kang has also held positions of Vice President of Operations for the DSO, Orchestra Manager for the Seattle Symphony, and Orchestra Management Fellow with the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL). As an Orchestra Management Fellow, Kang worked with symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Houston, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Kang is a frequent speaker and has led numerous local, state and national outreach efforts. Kang has also chaired panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Full Frame International Documentary Film Festival, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, among others. Kang was the youngest and first Asian-American to serve as president of a major symphony orchestra. Kang has been selected by The News & Observer (NC) as a “Tar Heel of the Week” and byCrain’s Detroit Business “40 under 40.” He is a graduate of Leadership Detroit, and has served on national boards including Henry Ford Hospital and United Neighborhood Centers of America. Kang has also been a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and completed the Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program at Harvard Business School. Born in New York City, and trained in violin studies from a young age, he holds a degree in Economics from the University of Rochester in New York.

Who and what inspires about the arts?

So many times in one’s career you start out as a consumer of art, and a lot of people are also practitioners of art. I find myself in a much more multi-dimensional in terms of my role with art, and much more now than I used to. Now I find my inspiration in much less obvious places. I’m inspired by helping artists achieve their vision. I find inspiration in the discovery of an idea or a new topic of inquiry. We’re always supporting the creation of new work, and I find that inspiring as well.

What attracted you to being an EmcArts board member? 

I think it was hearing Melissa Dibble, Managing Director and Richard Evans, President talk about this shift from working with institutions to working with communities that inspired me to join the Board. I really feel like that shift is an important one to make with intentionality and deliberateness. I feel like that is the direction we have to take in the future. The future of the arts in this country lies in communities and in individual artists- I feel like the days of five or six institutions trickling down to the rest of the community isn’t how it works any more.

Meera Chakravarthy

Summer Intern


Meera is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is studying Economics and Music. Coming from a background in flute, Meera hopes to synthesize her artistic lens with her inclination to understand the systems artists navigate, and the environments in which they reside. Currently, she is preparing for a thesis focused on cultural nonprofits’ role in planning and developing the arts in a city. Her research work at EmcArts this summer is extremely valuable, since it supports her in mapping innovative work in the field and understanding connections within the cultural sector. She assists the team in a variety of ways, with particular focus on supporting business development and grant writing. Meera researches foundation structures and innovation networks within cities while assisting with information gathering, writing, and proofreading for reports and grants.

“As A native of Kansas, living in New York City and working with EmcArts has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience for me, especially as I think about the next directions I’d like to take in my research and my professional life,” says Meera.  Meera enjoys exploring various yoga practices and eating her favorite cuisine: Ethiopian food.

Who and what inspires you to work towards innovation and adaptive change in the arts?

Coming from two academic backgrounds, music and economics, I have always felt the drive to be innovative and adaptive to ensure that these disciplines blend. My liberal arts background has constantly inspired me to not treat my interests as binary, but instead find ways to creatively mix these perspectives. I am inspired to innovate by listening to fusion artists. Growing up in a system of classical western music education yet coming from a South Indian background, I have constantly debated what role music plays in my life. Through exposure to fusion artists, I finally found out how musicians can be adaptive towards two cultures and create a blend of music that creates a more special avenue for me to explore my own artistic practice.

What do you wish you could see more of in the arts and social sectors?

I wish the arts and social sectors could affect wider groups of people — not only in their exposure to products — but in their capacity for outreach and engagement. I hope to see this happening specifically through innovative and inclusive urban planning strategies. Ideally, I strive to see more people involved in interdisciplinary conversations —in both urban planning and governance — about the role of art as a catalyst in cities and communities.

For a full listing of our team members, visit our EmcArts website.

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