Staff Bios


 

Alex LukasAlex S. Lukas, Director of Facilities & Technical Operations
Alex S. Lukas, born and raised in Salinas, CA, has been a Bay Area resident since the late 90′s.  He’s been active as an experimental musician and practicing sound & video artist since his teenage years, performing regularly and showing occasionally.  Alex attended both BFA and MFA programs from the California College of the Arts in Film, Video, Performance and Media Arts, respectively. Back to staff directory

 


RRene Yanezene Yañez, Director of Special Projects
René Yañez is an artist, curator and producer who lives and works in San Francisco Bay Area. A founder and former Artistic Director of Galería de la Raza, Yañez was one of the first curators to introduce the contemporary concept of Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the United States. Since the early 1970s, René Yañez has been instrumental in establishing the Day of the Dead as an important cultural celebration. Active as both a visual and performing arts curator, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. Yáñez is widely recognized for his innovative art projects that promote a greater awareness of our culturally diverse city. He has curated numerous exhibitions including the art exhibit “Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge.” The collection features works by Chicano artists from around the United States. During its five-year, 15-stop tour, “Chicano Visions” was shown simultaneously with its companion cultural exhibit, “Chicano Now: American Expressions.” In 1998, he received the Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership from the San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area. He remains a strong role model and vital cultural force in the San Francisco arts community. Back to staff directory

LLa Vette Virdena Vette Virden, Bookkeeper
Mother, daughter, sister, auntie, cheerleader, Mom and Bookkeeper is La Vette P. Virden. As a native child of Frisco she has lived in many neighborhoods through out the city, Haight-Ashbury being her most favorite as it gave her a sense of style and freedom to BE without inhibition…though she has always hated being skinny so some shyness came from that. Her grandmother, Enola D. Maxwell was Executive Director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House for 28 years thus her introduction into the nonprofit world. She has been a little kid running around playing hide-n-seek to program participant, program coordinator, and bookkeeper for several non-profit organizations such as Booker T. Washington Community Center, Cultural Odyssey, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House and SOMArts. Her hobbies are reading, dancing, chocolate, shopping at flea markets and, just recently, boxing. Back to staff directory

 

Jena McRae Schwirtz

Jena McRae Schwirtz, Director of Administrative Operations
Jena is a dancer, ethnochoreologist, actor and producer who, in her professional life, has found delight in moving projects forward and making processes efficient. Before coming to SOMArts, Jena was the Director of Operations at The Go Game, an immersive IRL games and team-building company in San Francisco. She graduated from the World Arts and Cultures as well as History departments at UCLA, and earned her Masters degree in Ethnochoreology at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Since returning to the Bay Area in 2009, she danced with and supported admin for Nicole Klaymoon’s Embodiment Project, and has been an active company member of PianoFight Theater Company. 

Devon NandagiriDevon Nandagiri, Event Rentals Manager 
Devon has been making videos and producing events in San Francisco for the past 12 years. He is the founder of Hard French, San Francisco’s largest daytime outdoor soul music party. His video art includes the short lived (but well loved) online TV show, BrownDownCrown, as well as the Olympia, WA punk rock fable Malaqueerche. He resides in the mission with his two best friends and is a deep fanboy – of everything he loves.

 

 

Sarah Pritchard by Chani BockwinkelSarah Pritchard, Director of Communications & Strategy
Sarah Pritchard is a dancer and organizer based in Oakland. A founding member of SALTA dance collective, she has produced dozens of performances in libraries, private homes, warehouses, museums, and even SOMArts. Before joining SOMArts to manage communications and outreach, Sarah developed violence prevention curricula and programs for Futures Without Violence. Sarah brings both their non-profit street smarts and her creative vision to cultural work. They consider it a great privilege and responsibility to create a platform that will support SOMArts’ artists. Back to staff directory

 

Tara Chandi bio photo

Tara Chandi, Gallery Communications & Events Intern
Tara is pursuing her Masters in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts and is thrilled to be part of SOMArts. Having just moved to the city she is fascinated by the history and culture beating out every corner she turns. She is passionate about creating meaningful social impact through user-centered design. Half the process to achieve this is curious observation and she spends her free time volunteering at events across the city. Back to staff directory

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Cathie AndersonCathie Anderson, Building Manager & Technician
Cathie Anderson works in production management of special events and as a stage lighting designer. Highlights of her career include working as the Assistant Production Manager for Blaisdell Center, Honolulu’s largest entertainment facility, and as a Convention Service Manager for Moscone Center’s in-house audio visual department. She also worked as Brava Theater’s Rental Production Manager and remains as their in house lighting designer and technical advisor. Cathie has extensive experience in event coordination and working with a wide variety of artists, technicians, vendors, security, house and union personnel. Events have included intimate settings for 50 persons to larger arenas with over 8,000 attendees. Today she continues to be active in freelance lighting design, and is very happy to have discovered and become part of the team at SOMArts as a Lighting Technician and Building Manager. Back to staff directory

Katie Gilmartin Alternate Author PhotoKatie Gilmartin, Building Manager & Technician
Katie Gilmartin’s checkered past includes stints as a miserable graduate student, buoyant union organizer, bona fide sex researcher, and deeply engaged college professor. She attended Oberlin College and Yale Graduate School, then for over a decade taught cultural studies. Her adult venture into printmaking began shortly after receiving her doctorate, with an urgent quest to relocate pleasure. Gilmartin became utterly smitten with printmaking as art and as craft, and eventually surrendered her academic life. In 2000 she assumed care of Chrysalis Print Studio at SOMArts, where she now teaches linocut and monotype classes and works as a building manager. She founded City Art Cooperative Gallery and the Queer Ancestors Project, which is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between young LGBTQ people and their ancestors. In 2014 Cleis Press will publish her first novel, Blackmail, My Love, an illustrated noir mystery set in 1950s San Francisco. Check out her rave reviews on yelp, and her artwork at katiegilmartin.com. Back to staff directory

 

D4448480955_04f8f94e71_bion Reiner-Guzman, Building Manager & Technician
Dion Reiner-Guzman is a SF native also raised in San Diego & Mexico. Dion has been an employee of SOMArts since 2001 building stages since age 16. He has been DJing 8+ years under the aka Dion Decibels. A graduate of Ex’pression College For Digital Arts he has been recording/mixing/producing music & doing live sound for 5+ years. Back to staff directory

 
 

Rio YanezRio Yañez, Building Manager & Technician
From the moment he was conceived in an artist’s studio, Rio Yañez’ fate as an artist was sealed. Born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, Yañez is a curator, photographer, and graphic artist. As a curator he is a frequent collaborator with his father, Rene Yañez, and the pair have been developing exhibits together since 2005. He has exhibited in cities ranging from San Francisco to Tokyo. His re-imaginings of Frida Kahlo have included the Ghetto Frida Project, a series of prints, writings, and performance pieces featuring a thugged-out Kahlo. Yañez is also a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the world’s most dangerous tortilla art collective. Back to staff directory

Matt McKinley, Interim Gallery Exhibitions Designer & Technical Coordinator
Matt was Chief Curator at ARTworkSF Gallery prior to creating his own consulting business, McKinley Art Solutions. He has been an invited speaker for the Small Business Association of San Francisco, juror for 7th and 8th Altered Barbie exhibits and the Fairfield Visual Arts Association’s 45th and 52nd Juried Exhibits, moderator for panel discussions addressing Bay Area contemporary art for ArtSpan and stART up Art Fair, and visual arts coordinator for the San Francisco International Arts Festival (since 2007). Matt is a working member of the Bay Area Model’s Guild and a member of the board at ArtSpan since 2011. Matt has also concepted, curated, juried, and designed exhibits for the Queer Cultural CenterAsian Pacific Islander Cultural CenterAsian American Women Artists Association, San Francisco Sex Information and Lambda Legal, The San Francisco Artists’ Resource Center, Project Open Hand, and San Francisco Women Artists Gallery. Matt has been involved with SOMArts’ exhibit programming since 2001 as a guest curator, exhibit consultant, Lead Installer (2013 – 2015) and Gallery Exhibitions Designer & Technical Coordinator (as of 2015).

Ronnie HeavenRonnie Heaven, Building Manager & Technician
Ronnie hails from the City of Angels but calls San Francisco home. A singer in rock band Royal Skin, published poet and Star Wars nerd, he also enjoys nurturing and engaging in Queer, trans and people of color oriented art and expression.

 
 
 

Natalee DeckerNatalee Decker, Building Manager & Technician
Born and raised in Chicago, Natalee fell in love with community based art amongst thriving cultural diversity and a colorful underground art scene. She moved to Oakland in 2010, attracted by the political and literal climate of the Bay Area. She participates as an artist, experimental musician, activist, live sound engineer, aspiring recording engineer and as a student working toward a degree in electrical engineering. In addition, Natalee interns at Women’s Audio Mission, a non-profit recording studio and education center that encourages women’s participation in music production and recording arts (a field that is less than 5% women). At Women’s Audio Mission, she assists Girls on the Mic, a program that teaches girls between the ages of 8-18 about careers in audio engineering. Natalee is thrilled to lend her passions, skills, and experiences to SOMArts and the larger Bay Area community.

Veronica SimonettiVeronica Simonetti, Building Manager & Technician
Veronica grew up in multiple states throughout the Midwest. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Recording Arts. In college, Veronica gained a great deal of experience through the countless hours she spent recording ensembles and bands at the Jacobs School of Music. She interned for Women’s Audio Mission while in college, and that positive experience led to her decision to move to San Francisco after she graduated. Veronica now works as a freelance audio engineer in the Bay Area, which includes a range of work from recording and live sound to audio preservation. In addition to SOMArts, Veronica works for Women’s Audio Mission and the Bay Area Video Coalition.
Carolina QuintanillaCarolina Quintanilla, Curatorial Partnerships Manager
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University. Back to staff directory

 

 


Sherry SuismanSherry Suisman, Board of Directors
Sherry Suisman has served on the SOMArts Board of Directors since August 2010. An educator for over 15 years, Sherry has provided professional development and other support to community college faculty across the state, and served as a Business Communications Instructor and Director of Academics at Year Up Bay Area. From 1999 – 2009, Sherry taught writing and reading courses in the English Department at San Francisco State. She earned a B.A. in English Literature from Washington University and an M.A. in English from San Francisco State. Sherry is committed to supporting the arts in the Bay Area and is thrilled to be a member of the SOMArts Board.


Dorothy SantosDorothy Santos, Board of Directors
Dorothy Santos is a freelance art writer, blogger, curator, and photojournalist. Born and raised in San Francisco, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco. As the arts editor and curator for Asterisk San Francisco Magazine + Gallery and blogger for ZERO1: Arts and Technology Network and Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA), she enjoys writing about artists and engaging with the community. Her work has also appeared in Art Practical, Stretcher, and Planting Rice. She will be pursuing her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts. Her research emphasis will be on programming, creative coding, and open source culture and their effects on contemporary fine arts. Back to staff directory

Nick Gomez

Nick Gomez, Board of Directors
Nick Gomez is a Senior Project Manager at Lowney Architecture in Oakland. He has over 15 years experience in multi-family housing, exhibit design, and art installation. Nick is a graduate of CCA, and has formed various art collectives over the years that have produced both gallery exhibits and public art pieces.

Nick Began working with SOMArts in 1999 as an exhibiting artist in the Dia de los Muertos shows with Rene Yanez. Rene Yanez and Jack Davis recognized that his architecture background could be useful in the exhibit planning and in 2000 Nick was asked to collaborate on the exhibit design for the “Ciudad de Los Milagros” show at SOMArts. Over the next few years, Nick moved from exhibiting artist to exhibit designer. He has designed and collaborated with Rene on all the Dia De los Muertos shows since.

In 2013 Nick was appointed to the Alameda Public Art Advisory Committee. The PAAC helps identify groups of artist for projects and provides feedback through the selection process and installation of public art works in Alameda County. Nick’s background in art and architecture has helped with sourcing materials and planning opportunities for the public art in projects.

Nick was honored to be asked to join the Board at SOMArts, and looks forward to his new role with the institution. Back to staff directory


Iris FluellenIris Fluellen, Board of Directors
Iris Fluellen is a Bay Area native and San Francisco resident whose claim to fame is she has lived in the 415 area code her entire life. She has been involved in the non-profit arena for many years. Previous employers include the SF Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Asian Art Museum, the Nature Conservancy, her alma mater, UC Berkeley, the Public Policy Institute of California and is now Director of Leadership Gifts for the San Francisco Parks Alliance.

Iris is a board member of the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. In addition to her commitment to philanthropy, she is a strong believer in the arts being the catalyst to touch the creative spirit that lies within all of us. In her spare time, Iris writes about her observations about politics and relationships between the sexes. Movies, reading, cooking and traveling are almost as important to her as her two cats, Carrie and Samantha. Back to staff directory


Jacob FosterJacob Foster, Board of Directors
Jacob Foster is an attorney at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP. A native of Berkeley, Jacob has been an advocate for artists both in the United States and South Africa. He previously served as a law clerk on the Constitutional Court of South Africa and worked at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Back to staff directory

 

 

 

Rhodessa JonesRhodessa Jones, Board of Directors
Rhodessa Jones is Co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco acclaimed performance company Cultural Odyssey and the recipient of the 2013 Mayor’s Art Award. She is an actress, teacher, singer, and writer. Ms. Jones is also the Director of the award winning Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, which is a performance workshop that is designed to achieve personal and social transformation with incarcerated women.

Rhodessa was most recently selected as an “Arts Envoy” by the U.S. Department of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau to conduct an international six-week residency/workshop process inside the Naturena Women’s Prison in Johannesburg, South Africa. The residency utilizes the medium of theater, movement, and literature, to increase self and social awareness of the female offender and explores an arts-based approach whose aim is empowerment and to help reduce the numbers of women returning to jail. During February 2012 Rhodessa was invited by Smith College to give a lecture and conduct residency activities for the Black Student Association. In March 2012 Ms. Jones conducted residency activities at Brown University for the Arts in the One World Conference. During October 2011 Rhodessa gave the Keynote Address for the Grant Makers for the Arts Individual Artists & Social Justice Pre-conference held in San Francisco. In addition, during this same month Rhodessa lectured and facilitated residency activities for the Scripps College Humanities Institute on the topic Performing the Body Politic: Transgressions, Interventions, and Expressive Culture.

Rhodessa’s Directing credits include; Lysistrata, for the African American Shakespeare Company; My Life in the Concrete Jungle, The Lorraine Hansberry Theater, San Francisco; Sekou Sundiata’s Blessing the Boats, Aaron Davis Hall, New York; Trail of Her Inner Thigh, Campo Santo/Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco; and Will Power’s The Gathering, Theater Artaud, San Francisco. December of 2007 Ms. Jones received a United States Artist Fellowship to support her work. In 2004 she was honored with an Honorary Doctorate from California College of the Arts. Other awards include a San Francisco Bay Guardian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, a San Francisco Community Leadership Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life in the Bay Area” in 2000. In May 2003 Ms. Jones was awarded a Non-Profit Arts Excellence Award by the San Francisco Business Arts Council, and in June 2003 she received an Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theater. Rhodessa’s published works include: A Beginner’s Guide to Community – Based Arts, New Village Press; Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women, The University of North Carolina Press; Colored Contradictions An Anthology of Contemporary African–American Plays (“Big Butt Girls, Hard-Headed Women”), Penguin Group; Extreme Exposure: An Anthology of Solo Performance Texts From The Twentieth Century (“Big Butt Girls, Hard-Headed Women”), Theater Communications Group; and Let’s Get It On: The Politics of Black Performance, Bay Press. Back to staff directory


Peter SizgoricPeter Sizgoric, Board of Directors
Peter Sizgoric is a transplant to the city of San Francisco and originally from the Midwest. Mr. Sizgoric has professional experience in consulting and financial services across a diverse array of industries, and nonprofit experience as both a volunteer and board member for arts organizations. Mr. Sizgoric possesses two bachelor of science degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master of business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Back to staff directory