Meet the Arts Council Staff
We’re a dedicated team of creatives, educators, and organizers here to make Santa Cruz County a stronger community where creative expression thrives. Reach out to any of us directly below.
Statement of Non-Discrimination
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.
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.
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 Executive Director, Jim works with the entire Arts Council team to advance our mission.
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. In addition to parenting, Jim loves to dance, hike, and read fantasy/science fiction novels.
Program & Administrative Coordinator
Yesenia is a Watsonville-native, currently living in Santa Cruz. As the Program and Administrative Coordinator, she provides support to Senderos, a partner non-profit organization, and closely assists the Art Council’s Watsonville arts expansion work and Grants Program. Outside of work, she enjoys reading, live music, and playing with her corgis, Quin and Neko.
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.
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Jessica Carmen Evanjelista
As the Development Manager, Jessica's focus is to steward community and relationships. Having been born and raised between Watsonville’s strawberry fields and Santa Cruz’s beaches, she is especially passionate about the role and bringing the arts to her home county. Jessica graduated from Hartnell College with dual Associate of Arts degrees in World History and Developmental Psychology. She is currently attending California State University, Monterey Bay where her capstone involves writing the history of Chicano Muralismo and its positive influence within the tri-county area of Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey.
Jessica and her partner have been creating and sharing their art as a duo since they met in 2011; With several First Friday and private gallery shows, community art and family events and murals throughout the tri-county area under their belts. Aside from creating art in its various forms, Jessica enjoys spending time with her enormous family, being a community organizer, traveling near and far and making new friends.
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.
Sally is fired up about helping people and organizations get what they need to thrive. In nonprofit leadership roles and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, she dedicates herself to just that. 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 she holds a Masters in Nonprofit Management and a Bachelor's 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 seven-year-old girl Sadie.
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
Inspired by the potential of the arts to transform and grow vibrant communities, Mercedes' 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.
Tamara joined Arts Council Santa Cruz County from a dynamic background in the arts. Beginning as a trained flutist, she has fulfilled a variety of roles in different arts settings. She received her Bachelor of Music in musicology and a minor in business from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; at this time she also worked for Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as a production assistant and development intern. Upon returning to her birthplace of Santa Cruz in 2016 after two decades, she began working in an administrative capacity with Opera Cultura, a Latinx opera company based in San Jose. In 2018, Tamara joined the staff of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, where her passion and experience helps bring to life new music for orchestra by living composers. In 2019, she began performing at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Capitola as a flutist, and joined the Board of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players. Tamara’s wide array of skills and experience in the arts is the perfect foundation to help her serve the Santa Cruz arts community more deeply as Executive Assistant with the Arts Council. In addition to her work, Tamara loves dancing to live music, practicing yoga and meditation, dabbling in painting, taking walks on the beach or in the forest, and playing with her three cats.
Grants Program Manager
Nallely is a local grantmaker with community engagement and resource management experience. Formerly the Grants Officer and Operations Manager at the Community Foundation, Nallely began her career working with families and children in the Watsonville/Pajaro Valley area as a program and volunteer coordinator. These experiences have cultivated a commitment towards a community where we are all safe, healthy, and feel connected. She believes the arts have the ability to create meaningful connections that uplift the voices of our diverse county. In her role as Grants Program Manager, Nallely is here to support the creative visions of our local artists and cultural ambassadors towards Santa Cruz County where avenues for artistic expression and experiences are inclusive and accessible.
Arts Education Manager & Teaching Artist
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.
Katie is an artist and educator from Santa Cruz, with an MFA from the City College of New York, in Studio Art, and a BA from Portland State University, in Drawing, Painting and Printmaking. She loves combining drawing, painting, printmaking, and other media – and her work focuses on nature in various ways. She loves teaching art to people from kindergarten through college, and her teaching has focused on drawing, painting, printmaking, and bookbinding. In the classroom she fosters fun communities with teachers and students alike. She is super excited about art and nature, and ready to get her students excited, too!
Maria has been involved in the arts community in Santa Cruz for many years, most recently at the Museum of Art & History and as a dance teacher for the Dance for Parkinson's program at Motion Pacific Dance. She received her BA in Sociology, Gender Studies, and Dance from Hampshire College, focusing her studies on identity formation through social dance and the gendering of movement. As a dancer, she has performed at the National Queer Arts Festival, the Tannery Arts Center, Motion Pacific Dance, as well as around the Bay Area as a musician. Maria loves the immediacy that art provides us to find our expression, senses, imagination, humanity, and connection to ourselves and each other. She also enjoys being in the ocean, playing chess, and physical comedy.
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.
Christina Wright is a Teaching Artist for Theater with Mariposa Arts. A native of the South Bay Area, when Christina started lining up her stuffed animals to perform plays in her room, her parents suspected she might someday have a career in the dramatic arts. After performing in school plays all throughout grade school, she went on to study at the Foothill Theatre Conservatory in Los Altos Hills and earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts/Drama at San Francisco State University. Along with acting, singing and directing, Christina also transitioned into film studies and earned a Master’s in Film Theory and History from Trinity College Dublin. She currently teaches as an Adjunct Instructor for the Film and Television Department at De Anza College in Cupertino and freelances as a screenwriter. In addition to teaching with Mariposa Arts, Christina runs an after-school film and drama club, through her program Lights, Character, Action!, with local schools here in Santa Cruz County, with a focus on social and emotional learning, leadership development and global citizenship. She is also a youth group facilitator for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program.
Christina is now living on the Central Coast and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Salinas Valley Arts and Innovation Hub, which connects arts, education, and business development capabilities to build healthy, prosperous communities in the Salinas Valley. She also serves on the Advisory Board for New York's Children's Theatre Company, the Advisory Committee for University of San Diego’s Character Education Resource Center, and the Board of Director’s for the UNA-USA Monterey Bay Chapter where she serves on the Youth Education Committee and International Documentary Film Festival Committee.