Meet the Arts Council Staff
The Arts Council’s Board and Staff are committed to supporting and advancing the arts in Santa Cruz County without regard to ethnicity, color, creed, religion, age, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, military status, marital status, political opinion, national origin, familial status, mental and physical disability, or source of income.
Our dedicated team gets the job done for you – every day.
Director of Arts Education
Focused on outreach efforts to underserved communities, Sarah manages the Arts Council’s Arts Education program, including SPECTRA, Mariposa Arts, Artist Teacher Partnership, and the Santa Cruz County Alliance for Arts Education. Most of her work has been with youth from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She develops and provides engaging, enriching, and supportive art programs that meet educational, social/emotional, and artistic needs. An education enthusiast, she holds a Masters in Arts Management and a BA in Fine Art and Graphic Design, along with minors in both anthropology and music.
Her background in program management, strategic planning, curriculum development, and arts program delivery makes her the ideal Director of of Arts Education. For the past four years she has led local and statewide arts education advocacy efforts through her work with the Arts Council and California Alliance for Arts Education local advocacy networks.
In her free time, she enjoys immersing herself in the creative process, painting and crafting, yoga, and spending time with her little boy in the great outdoors.
Interim Executive Director
Since 2003 Jim has followed his dedication to building communities that support authentic self-expression. A recovering software engineer for the semiconductor industry, he served as the Executive Director of both the Diversity Center and the 418 Project before joining the Arts Council as Grants Program Manager in 2012. He left in 2015 for a position as Program Officer and Grants Manager at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, but returned to the Arts Council in 2017, as Deputy and Tannery Director, to work more closely with community and the arts.
As Tannery Director, Jim worked with his team to strengthen the Tannery community, create exceptional programming, and increase awareness of everything happening on this campus. As Deputy Director, Jim worked with the Program Directors to execute our new strategic plan. Now, as Interim Executive Director, Jim will work with the entire Arts Council team to advance our mission while the board conducts a search for our new Director.
On a personal note, Jim has three children (Serenity, Andrew, and Nate) that he adopted through the foster system. They came to him in 2011 and are now 12, 14, and 15 years old! In addition to parenting, Jim loves to dance, hike, and read fantasy/science fiction novels.
Cynthia Contreras was born and raised in Watsonville with her four older sisters. One of the earliest memories she has in the arts was when she was 7 and would help paint murals with her oldest sister. She graduated from Watsonville High School in 2010 and started attending Cabrillo College where she met her husband. In 2018, Cynthia got accepted to UCSC where she is pursuing an economics degree.
Cynthia especially enjoys hiking in the redwoods, walks on the beach, and dancing.
(831) 475-9600 Ext. 24
Ami Davis is the Development Specialist at the Arts Council, where she supports fundraising and donor relations. Her career in the arts began early, as a comic book illustrator for her junior high newspaper. In the 1990s she worked as an educator for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. She has served other arts institutions such as the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Monterey Museum of Art, the Orange County Museum of Art, and the San Jose Museum of Art. She has been an instructor for courses in contemporary art at UCLA Extension, and has been a panelist and presenter at numerous national museum and arts conferences. She serves on the board of the Santa Cruz Art League where she is currently co-chair. Ami feels deeply connected to Santa Cruz’s natural splendor, rich history, and diverse culture, and is at home whether in the redwoods, at the beach, or in an art gallery.
As a former business owner, sales manager, development director and fundraising consultant, Tim seeks to uncover the personal passions of each individual donor and connects them intimately with the life-changing work they’ve made possible. He greatly enjoys helping donors realize their desire to make meaningful change in the world by investing in the arts. In his spare time, his interests include traveling to far-off places, jogging through the east side, playing guitar and backpacking in the wild.
Sahar El-Khatib is a yoga and drumming teacher for the Mariposa Arts and SPECTRA arts education programs. SHe received her yoga teacher’s certification from the Shri Kali Ashram in Goa, India, 2011. She has since been teaching children and adults of various ages, and enjoys teaching yoga in creative ways. Sahar is also a musician, playing drums and rhythms, exploring sound therapy, and uses music during the classes she guides. She also holds a Master Level Certificate in Reiki. She studied Graphic Design in LAU, Beirut, enjoys photography, and loves to travel.
Drumming: Sahar El Khatib is a certified Djembe Instructor, from Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy, which is an international Academy of djembe, and has 7 academies around the world. Sahar has been drumming for 8 years, and traveled to West Africa, Guinea, several times, since 2011 to pursue her studies straight from the source. She is fully dedicated to pass the knowledge and the culture of the Djembe, by teaching, performing, and giving educational workshops. She is also recognized as a Cultural Performing Artist by the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.
(831) 475-9600 Ext. 26
Program Manager for Mariposa Arts & Teaching Artist
Monica's creativity and ability to tackle any task put before her is what has made her a valuable Program Manager for Mariposa Arts. Monica grew up in Watsonville where she first started creating art as a way to cope with the stresses of day to day life. Coming from a low income family has given her an amazing ability to deal with crisis and an impeccable work ethic. At age 15 Monica started taking art classes at Cabrillo College in order to follow her passion for creating art. After graduating high school Monica continued at Cabrillo finally transferring to UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2014. She later graduated receiving a Bachelors of Art in Art Practice in May of 2016. Monica has been working as a Mariposa Arts teacher since the Fall of 2017, where she has been a mentor to high school students and a guide to the world of art to over 1,000 students in the PVUSD district. Monica has 2 years of experience working in Art Galleries in the positions of Preparator, PR assistant, Events assistant, and Gallery Manager. Monica's art forms include installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, and painting. To see her art work go to: www.monicagalvanart.com
Grants Program Manager
Hannah has nearly a decade of nonprofit program development and management experience with a passionate focus on community engagement, social justice, and racial equity. Hannah believes that a strong arts community empowers all of us to harness our unique power and creativity - providing a platform for authentic expression, shared dialogue, and social transformation. She is deeply inspired by the artistic diversity throughout Santa Cruz County and seeks to support the many voices and art forms throughout our multicultural community.
Outside of the Arts Council, Hannah enjoys dance, being in nature, and developing a mindfulness meditation practice.
Outreach and Bilingual Communications Coordinator
Born in Watsonville and raised in Mexico and the San Joaquin Valley with her farmworker parents, Mireya moved to the Pajaro Valley to stay at the age of 13 and has since been deeply engaged in social justice and community building work. She has three sisters, five nieces/nephews, one daughter and one son. She loves to garden, drink wine, camp and play with arts and crafts. Her first memory of art is from when she was in elementary school and her teacher took the class outside to the playground to sit around a tree. She and her classmates were instructed to draw the same tree. The memory of her first work of art remained in her mind and she has never stopped combining art with nature; now she enjoys art most with her daughter.
Interim Deputy Director
Sally is fired up about helping people and organizations get what they need to thrive. In leadership roles in local nonprofits and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, she has dedicated herself to just that for the last 25+ years. Talking through ideas with teams, writing, and development strategy are her sweet spots. Sally is a graduate of Leadership Santa Cruz and Focus Ag, and holds a Masters in Nonprofit Management and a Bachelors in Business.
When she’s not hunched over her laptop, Sally likes to travel, grow things, paint, share belly laughs, and hang out with her six year old girl Sadie.
Administrative & A/P Assistant
After two decades working for City schools, Alejandra is thrilled to be at the Arts Council. Her experience working in the classroom and in administration, working in Spanish and English with families and students, serve her well in her new role greeting guests at the front desk, and supporting our financial and executive functions. At home she is raising two sons, eight tortoises, more than 30 fish and a chameleon.
Venessa Ledesma is a bilingual Art Teaching Artist with Mariposa Arts. Ms. Ledesma has worked with the program for a year and is passionate about inspiring youth in the community to utilize art as an outlet. Since 2009 she has been involved with several community organizations; such as the Watsonville Brown Berets, Community Bridges, Community Life Services, Community Mural Project and Watsonville Paint night, where she participated/co-facilitated all age art workshops and events. Although creating art has always been apart of Ms. Ledesma life, she began showing her work professionally in 2014. Her paintings and jewelry have since been exhibited at the the Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery, Second Street Cafe and Local craft fairs. Ms. Ledesma has painted Murals for non-profits, such as Creative Young Artists and Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes.
Tannery Program Manager & Events Coordinator
Mercedes produces events through the Arts Council including Ebb and Flow and various events at the Tannery Art Center.
Inspired by the potential of the arts to transform and grow vibrant communities, her career spans her role as a visual merchandiser for a corporate brand, working in numerous venues in the Monterrey Bay within the wedding industry and the production of multiple community events in between.
She spends her free time with her sons and husband hiking in the redwoods, at the beach and on the soccer pitch. She loves family, community, travel, simple fresh food and flowers.
Andres Ortiz is a theater teaching artist with the Mariposa Arts and SPECTRA arts education programs. He was born in Pomona, CA and raised in San Antonio, TX. He started performing in talent shows and school plays at the age of 10. Andres attended high school at a magnet school in San Antonio called the North East School of the Arts where he majored in musical theater. Also during high school, Andres received additional acting training at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center on the Westside of San Antonio.
He attended college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX where he graduated with a BFA in Acting in 2010. During his time in Texas, Andres performed with many different professional companies such as the Dallas Theater Center, Kitchen Dog Theater, Dallas Children’s Theater, and Amphibian Stage Productions. After graduation, Andres began teaching and working with inner-city youth as a means of supporting his acting career. He has also worked as a substitute teacher, basketball coach, and an after-school arts and activities instructor.
Since moving back to California in 2012, Andres has worked with Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino on their recent production of “Valley of the Heart,” where he played the role of Benjamin.
Open Studios & Events Director
Ann manages the complex production of our annual Open Studios Art Tour with an unflappable attitude. She is the liaison for several hundred Open Studios artists, event sponsors and volunteers. Her attention to detail and keen ability to predict the unpredictable make Ann the ideal person for Open Studios and other events.
Ann’s own art is practiced in the garden where she enjoys growing dahlias and roses. When there are no more weeds to pull, she spends time making fabric crafts in her sewing room.
As Communications Coordinator, Liz assists our Communications Director with spreading the word about all of the Arts Council's programs as well as all of the exciting happenings here at the Tannery. Her background in everything from copywriting and marketing to community management and customer/tech support helps her in her role as the person behind the scenes of most of our newsletter and social media channels, as well as a friendly face for Arts Council and Tannery inquiries.
When she's not at the office, you'll find her reading, painting, drawing comics, camping, playing ukulele, climbing aerial silks, or doing acrobatic circus tricks with her husband.
Luis Sanchez is a bilingual Dance Teaching Artist with the Mariposa Arts and SPECTRA arts education programs. Mr. Sanchez has worked with the program for 2 years, but has been teaching in the school district and at local community centers for over 10 years working with students of all ages, learning styles, and abilities. He has been dancing professionally since 2004, and although largely self-taught he also studied dance at Cabrillo College and with various Hip Hop dance organizations including Hip Hop Craze, Jabbawockeez, and Dance Street Rockers. His performances have been featured in World of Dance, San Francisco Hip Hop Festival, and Enroute, as well as music videos for rappers Chris Rene and Cypress Hill. He has also been granted the Cesar Chavez Award and Proclamation from the City of Watsonville for his service to our community.
Monique "Momo" Sanchez
Mariposa Arts Program Assistant
Monique, also known as Momo, has been a substitute Dance artist for the Mariposa Arts Program for the last three years, now taking on the role of Mariposa Arts Program Assistant!
Monique has always had a love for Performing Arts; while attending Watsonville High School from 2004-2010 Monique was always trying to find the next event she could showcase her singing and dancing talent. In 2008 Monique met Luis Sanchez, instructor of the Dynamic Street Rockerz dance team, and Logic Stylez youth dance team; they grew a great friendship which lead them to eventually get married in 2014.
Over the years Monique has had the privilege of learning from many great Urban Style Dance Artist such as The Jabbawockeez, Shaun Evaristo, Anthony Lee, Pat Cruz, Dom Bryd, Bam Martin, and many more. Monique has performed for events such as Enroute Urban Dance ShowCase, Christmas in the Park, opening acts for Freestyle Legend Connie, upcoming artist Snow tha Product, Bay Area legend Devin the Dude, Cypress Hill, and Mellow-Man Ace. Most Recently, alongside the Dynamic Street Rockerz, Monique received the opportunity to compete in Burbank Hollywood, on a Latinx talent competition show called Tengo Talento Mucho Talento! Monique loves pushing herself to learn different styles of art such as henna art, hair braiding, and makeup, leading her to receive her Certification in Cosmetology in 2018.
Monique wants to positively impact the youth in her community through art because she wants the youth in her Community to know, “Tienen el poder de hacer lo que ellos desean hacer, y tienen un comunidad de artistas atras de ellos apoyándolos.”
Finance & Operations Manager
Claudia monitors the overall agency budget for compliance, acts as liaison with auditors, lenders and investment brokers, oversees internal financial and office systems, and develops and implements fiscal and administrative policy. It’s a tough job that she does with aplomb. She’s been with us since 2003, bringing over 25 years of experience in financial and administrative management.
Oliver Whitcroft originated in Bolinas, California and is an multi-disciplinary artist and musician. His mediums range from drawing and painting to photography, video, printmaking, calligraphy, ceramics animation, and beyond. Musically he is a beatmaker drawing on all types of music and instruments to loop, sample and create hiphop and electro-acoustic music. His artistic achievements include years of radio programming on KZSC, various youth Mural projects, a handful of curated and solo shows around the Bay Area as well as a short documentary on his alma mater art program. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Printmaking from UCSC and when he is not working with kids, he is studying arts such as photography, sculpture/digital fabrication and music at Cabrillo. He loves to share, inspire and experiment with sounds, imagery and ideas all around the studio of the world. His favorite things to do are listen to the radio, make soup, drink tea, and play piano.
Little Bit is the Arts Council team mascot and head of the Visitor Welcome Committee.